Between work, play, more work, and some time to sleep in between, Hong Kong is a busy city. Most of us rarely have time to take a breath, let alone reflect on how we and our loved ones are coping with the stresses of city life. Mind Hong Kong has recently started up to provide us resources about our mental health. But first of all, the conversation about mental health needs to start in Hong Kong.
Mind HK is spreading Time to Talk Day, a UK-wide initiative aimed at encouraging everyone to talk about how they’re feeling and ask each other, “are you ok?”. Being mentally healthy means talking about issues that are bothering you and seeking support when you need it. We spoke to Mind HK’s CEO, Dr. Hannah Reidy about their February 1st Time to Talk campaign. It’s time to check in with each other.
Are there things I should look out for in my friend, coworker or child to indicate they might be in need of help?
There can be many signs that someone is experiencing some difficulties with their mental health and wellbeing. The key word is ‘change’. They might be less talkative, less sociable, more easily wound up, or more distracted when you are talking to them. If someone is struggling to sleep or sleeping more/complaining about being tired; if their eating habits become less regular; if they are spending more and more time at work or on their phone – all of these things suggest that something might be going on which they need help with. Hong Kong is a place where people are often very high functioning, and so may be able to carry on with the daily necessities despite mentally being in need of help. They also put a lot of pressure on themselves to ‘manage’, and struggle to reach out for help. From a change in your loved one’s body language to the amount of time that they spend on self-care each day, you are in a unique position: you are the expert on what is ‘normal’ for your friends and family members and may be the only person to notice these signs.
‘Mental health’ is a scary term for a lot of people.
It can help to remember that everyone has ‘mental health’ – your moods, your behaviors, your personality…what makes you ‘you’ is your mental health! Over time, people have attached a stigma to something that everyone possesses and made it difficult to talk about – and that is what we need to break down together. If someone is experiencing mental health difficulties, it should be looked at in the same way as if they had problems with their physical health – something to be sympathetic, helpful, and hopeful about.
How do I even begin to start the conversation?
Simply finding 10 minutes to chat with someone and asking them if they are OK, or how they are doing, is a good way to start. Giving this time is an invitation for someone to open up, which may well be the first instance that they have had this opportunity. You don’t need to have specific knowledge about mental health to start a conversation like this; just an open and empathic attitude. Keep your body language open and accepting, and listen carefully to what they are saying, as well as their tone and the way that they are saying things. Don’t tell them what they need to do or ‘should do’. Think about how you might be able to help them, and help them to make an appointment with a GP if you both decide that they need to access some further help. You can find resources on how to start these conversations with children, friends/family, and colleagues here.
What kind of resources are there in the public and private systems for people who may need to talk to someone?
In Hong Kong, we have both public and private mental health professionals, including psychiatrists, psychologists, and counsellors. You can access public help by contacting a public hospital, and private health by contacting clinics directly or by asking your GP for a referral. There is, however, a severe shortage of mental health support, with under half of the recommended number of psychiatrists for our population size. Non-government organizations such as the Samaritans HK/Samaritans Befrienders offer a 24-hour support phone service (2896 0000), where you can talk non-judgmentally. Our Mind.org.hk website offers comprehensive advice on a range of mental health topics in English and Traditional Chinese which can further help the conversation. We also have a list of who to call in a mental health emergency.
How else can I participate in Time to Talk?
Starting a conversation and asking if someone is OK is the essence of Time to Talk Day. There are lots of resources to help you to do just this, or even to plan an event, here. We have resources for employers, communities and classrooms. Help us start the conversation on mental health in Hong Kong!
You can spread the word by sharing your own stories or video clips on how important it is to talk about our mental health on social media using the hashtags #timetotalk #timetotalkhk #mindhk. Mind HK will be celebrating the day with blogs, videos and stories about mental health – keep an eye out!