Improving the mental and psychological health of the public and promoting the development of Hong Kong’s counselling profession
Mr Chan Chun Ying:
Deputy President, Hong Kong is a city known for its high efficiency and fast pace. That is why many people living in this city, feeling intense livelihood pressure, are prone to mental stress and even mood disorders. In the latest Policy Address, the Chief Executive mentioned: “Mental health is one of the keys to happiness”, and stated that the Government will enhance the overall mental wellness of the community with services targeting the needs of various groups. The overall mental wellness of Hong Kong in recent years is indeed worrying. The “black-clad violence” in 2019 and the epidemic which has lasted for almost three years have brought serious challenges to society. I thank Ms Lillian KWOK for proposing the motion to urge the Government to promote the development of Hong Kong’s counselling profession and make good use of counselling professionals to contribute towards improving the mental and psychological health of the public.
Apart from affecting physical health, COVID-19 has also triggered mental health risks. During the epidemic, some people may start to show symptoms of hypochondriasis, worrying or feeling that they are having health problems. They would cut off all social interaction for fear of going out. They would even do rapid antigen tests repeatedly in a single day. Such behaviours affect not only themselves, but also their normal family life. As the fight against the epidemic drags on, many people experience pandemic fatigue. They may easily get frustrated or irritated, thus even leading to family conflicts or domestic violence. Among them, the elderly and children facing prolonged class suspension are more prone to emotional and mental problems.
According to the Hong Kong Mental Health Index Survey, the average score for Hong Kong people’s mental health was lower than the passing score, with 15.3% of the respondents having symptoms of anxiety disorder and 12.1% having symptoms of depression. Take children as an example. Under the epidemic, schools keep changing the mode of instruction between class suspension, online classes, half-day classes and resumption of classes. Many children find it difficult to adapt. In addition, stuck at home for a long period, they are likely to display obvious emotional fluctuations, such as being easily annoyed, restless and nervous.
The Hospital Authority (“HA”) has disclosed the waiting time for specialist outpatient psychiatric services last year. The waiting time for stable new case booking was 16 to 63 weeks, and the longest wait was even over 90 weeks, that means nearly 2 years, reflecting the failure of Hong Kong’s mental health services to meet the actual needs. Last year, an organization launched an online mental health self-help platform and found that since the outbreak of the fifth wave of the epidemic, the number of users of online mental health services had surged by 60%, with 47% of them showing moderate to very severe symptoms of anxiety, and the number of people seeking online psychological counselling had nearly tripled. The total number of attendances at HA’s psychiatric specialist outpatient clinics increased from about 860 000 in 2016 to about 910 000 in 2021, with around 48 000 new case bookings last year. All these figures reflect the rising demand for mental health services in the community.
Apart from clinical psychologists, psychiatrists and social workers, the counselling profession also plays a very important role in the provision of mental and psychological health services for all members of the public. Counselling work comprises many areas, and emotional counselling is only one of such areas. Counsellors provide various kinds of relevant professional guidance and advice focused on the predicaments faced by the service targets, including livelihood pressure, relationship problems, parenting, family conflicts and bereavement, and help clients cope with their difficulties, relieve their emotional distress, rectify inappropriate behaviour and improve interpersonal and family relationships.
Given the strong demand in society, the promotion of the development of the counselling profession, including putting in place a clear mechanism for the accreditation of the counselling profession and training more professionals to engage in such services, will help relieve the burden on the public mental health service system and alleviate the manpower shortage of relevant professionals. More importantly, it will enable people suffering from mild to moderate depression and anxiety to receive early treatment, thereby improving their quality of life and providing precautions to prevent emotional problems from deteriorating into more serious mental illnesses.
Deputy President, I support the original motion and the amendments proposed by the two Members. I so submit.