As the number of COVID-19 cases continues to climb, and our daily routines keep being interrupted and switched up, anxiety levels in Hong Kong are higher than ever before. From numbers of reported stress, to social work call centres getting historically high numbers of calls, signs point to increased depression levels in Hong Kong – and recent surveys confirm it.
Latest figures about mental health in Hong Kong
Even before COVID-19 came along, the overall mental health in Hong Kong wasn’t exactly optimal. Indeed, following a period of protests and social tensions since the summer of 2019, mental wellbeing was already at risk. 1 in 4 workers in Hong Kong were reporting symptoms of depression or anxiety, noting that of those who experience mental health disorders, almost three-quarters never seek professional help.
A recent survey from the University of Hong Kong (HKU) has found that three in four in Hong Kong now report having depressive symptoms. Another study designed by the Mental Health Association Hong Kong also found that 9 in 10 employees suffered from stress at work since the pandemic started. Social distancing, more frequent periods of isolation and being at home give rise to greater conflicts as well as risk for mental health problems.
According to a report from July 2020 by Samaritan Befrienders Hong Kong, a suicide prevention group in Hong Kong, there were 993 cases of suicide in the last year, which is a 4% rise over the year before.
What causes this increased stress?
There are several key aspects amidst the pandemic that contributes to the stress levels of people in Hong Kong:
Fear of contracting COVID-19 and social pressure ABOUT hygiene practices
As the number of confirmed cases continues to increase, and there is still currently no means of treatment available for the virus, many people live in fear of contracting the infection and also worry for their friends and family. With Hong Kong tightening up on regulations around hygiene practices such as mandatory masking and limits on gatherings, as well as banning indoor catering from 6pm to 4:59am and having checks for temperature at almost all public places, there is a sense of tension amongst citizens that make people look out for anyone who isn’t wearing a mask or wiping their hands in odd places. It is as if we are all part of a neighbourhood watch system, and the experience can be uncomfortable and stress inflicting.
Economic decline and its apparent impact on employment rates
With limits on dining out, a drop in consumption as well as limitations on travelling, Hong Kong faces an economic decline that is almost the worst since 1998. Retail and tourism revenues have plummeted while the rates of unemployment have skyrocketed, alongside the closing of many large and small business around Hong Kong. This naturally causes many to be anxious about their financial stability.
Shift in familY relationships and rise in disputes
Due to the implement of working from home, as well as schools with virtual learning, entire families are often stuck at home all day, and some of us are finding it hard to get used to. With a constant feed of information about the latest updates on effects of COVID-19, it can be tough to maintain a peaceful and harmonious environment at home. On top of being worried for our loved ones, we still have to stay on top of work and make do with meetings on Zoom and other work calls. Other than that, kids need to have some form of activities to let steam off as well as stay entertained for the parents to get some work done. While we are all trying our best, it can be challenging times and cause stress, and conflict at home.
Limited access to local resources, such as hospitals, clinics, even local markets
Other than stores closing, there is also limited availability of resources such as medical help from hospitals and clinics, due to the high demand for medical staff in managing COVID-19 patients. People also worry that there might be higher risk of contracting the disease by visiting hospitals and clinics, and try to avoid going despite needing medical assistance. There have also been reports of confirmed cases at local markets, which meant people also feel less safe about buying their groceries from the local markets. On top of that, the scavenger hunt for masks is still ongoing. With everyone needing every day goods and with delays in shipping across borders, just the fear of running out can be hard to manage amongst these times.
Signs of depression and where to seek help
Although we are all bound to experience negative emotions from time to time, there comes a time when it can be overwhelming and calls for us to reach out for external support. It is important for us keep track of our emotions to stay on top of our own emotional wellbeing. If you have been feeling sad, lonely or depressed, or feel a sense of hopelessness, for a duration of two weeks or more, and have experienced some inexplicable physical symptoms such as continuous fatigue, loss or gain of appetite or insomnia, it is time to seek help.
To get a clearer idea of where you might be regarding your emotional state, there are many checklists available online that allows you to confidentially assess your current emotional state. While this is not a professional diagnosis, checklists help you identify some of your current feelings. You can click here to find several self-assessments for emotional health.
If you wish to speak to a professional, here is a list of services ranging from hotlines to support groups that are listed on the government website.
You can read see our complete guide to Depression in Hong Kong:
Important: if you need urgent assistance, please call 999 to speak to emergency services in Hong Kong. Alternatively, if you or someone you know are having suicidal thoughts, help is available. You can call the following confidential hotlines, open 24 hours a day.
The Samaritan Befrienders Hong Kong – Suicide Crisis Intervention Centre → 2389 2223
Caritas Family Crisis Support Centre → 18288
Hospital Authority → 2466 7350
Suicide Prevention Services → 2382 0000
Recent initiatives about depression in Hong Kong
As with the recent shifts in society, mental health service providers have made efforts to be more available for those in need during COVID-19. Here are some recent initiatives.
The government’s Department of Health joined the Advisory Committee on Mental Health and launched the “Shall we talk” initiative in July. The campaign was launched with intentions to promote awareness about mental health as well as eliminate the stigma that surrounds talking about mental illness. The launch includes the official website, as well as pages on Instagram and Facebook, for use as platforms to spread mental health related information and also make services and resources available to the general public.
MindHK, a HK-based charity focused on mental health, has various webinars, free and accessible through their website, to spread awareness and help people manage their stress during COVID-19. They have also launched a COVID-19 Mental Health Scheme, which is a scheme that aims to provide free, short-term, remote therapy sessions for people in need. You can find out more and sign up for the services here.
Tips for getting through COVID-19
Here are several tips you can be mindful of to manage your stress during this pandemic.
Tip #1: Try to stay rational when browsing news updates on the outbreak. Be sure to check the reliability of the sources, beware of exaggerated messages, and also try to take a positive perspective and focus more on what we can do to stay protected.
Tip #2: Designate time for different agendas; set a time for news updates and set a time for relaxation so you are not constantly plugged into news media and allow your mind some time to rest. You can spend the time to meditate, read a book, or even take a nap, so to release some of the tension built up from accessing all this information.
Tip #3: Acknowledge that having negative emotions is understandable, and not repress or deny those feelings.
Tip #4: Stay in touch with family and friends via calls, video messaging or virtual group chats such as Houseparty, to receive support from others as well as provide support in return.
Tip #5: Continue to take care of yourself. Have a balanced diet, engage in regular exercise, and make sure you get sufficient sleep to maintain good physical health to be better immune from the virus.
We hope this article was helpful and insightful for you, check out articles below to find out more about coping during COVID-19, and subscribe to our newsletter for more!