The ongoing protests in Hong Kong have caused a spike in mental health problems among residents. It is vital that authorities work with different sectors in the city, particularly schools, to address this problem and prevent our society from becoming even more polarised and fractured.
According to a study conducted by the University of Hong Kong’s faculty of medicine, nearly one in 10 people are suspected to be suffering from depression during the extradition bill crisis. This is similar to the deterioration of mental health during the Occupy protests in 2014.
Young people form the majority of the protesters and they are particularly vulnerable to mental health issues. And some of these problems could persist well beyond the current turmoil.
Another study conducted last month involving participants aged between 12 and 23 showed that more than 72 per cent of students have been emotionally affected by the demonstrations. The students also talked about cyberbullying, leaking of personal details, and family disputes which were a result of the city’s political crisis.
Discussion of mental health carries a huge stigma in Chinese society, so Hong Kong is facing a huge challenge, with the possible escalation of the conflict likely to cause more misery for the people.
But all is not lost. Many organisations have arranged free counselling services for those who need them. Open Up (openup.hk), Hong Kong’s first 24/7 counselling platform for troubled youth, was launched last year. The service, available in both English and Chinese, caters to people aged between 11 and 35, and uses online and mobile messaging to talk to people about their troubles.
But with students back at school after the long summer holiday, teachers, too, have a big role to play. They have to ensure that the classroom remains a safe place for students, who may be having conflicts at home or with their friends.
Students need to feel they can speak about the protests and their mental health without fear of being bullied. It is important to acknowledge the events of the past three months and provide support for students, whether it is sharing sessions involving small groups or one-on-one counselling.
Given the pressure faced by Hong Kong students, there is a real need to ensure that a mental health crisis does not emerge as a result of the happenings this summer.