Hong Kong happiness declines, survey shows, with quality of life sinking and ‘alarming’ results for mental health amid protest crisis

Gigi Choy

About 40 per cent of Hongkongers showed symptoms of depression, according to a survey of the city’s happiness levels and mental health.

The findings came a day after another survey sponsored by the government also found Hongkongers’ mental health has deteriorated to its worst level in eight years.

The results of the annual poll, presented on Thursday by non-profit group HK.WeCare, showed this year’s happiness index to be 6.15, a drop of 0.39 from last year. On a scale of one to 10, about 48 per cent of those surveyed gave a happiness score of seven or above, while 17 per cent gave a score of four or below.

Satisfaction scores for quality of life also fell from last year. Under that section, the average scores dropped by 1.47 on Hong Kong’s political and social situation, 0.62 on its economy, and declined by 1.59 on the city’s governance. Law and order, a new category this year, scored 4.06 out of 10.

The HK.WeCare General Happiness Index, conducted since 2015, is made up of five parts: happiness level, internal factors, external factors, happiness-increasing activity and depressive symptoms based on PHQ-9, a depression severity metric.

Under these circumstances, all scores will be lower

Dr Lam Ching, assistant professor at Polytechnic University’s School of Nursing

Dr Simon Lam Ching, an assistant professor at Polytechnic University’s School of Nursing, said the city’s ongoing protest movement contributed to the latest results.

“This year we [conducted] the happiness index during a social crisis. It’s a kind of external environmental factor, which has multilevel effects on the individual’s mental capitals – like love, insight, fortitude and engagement – and their depressive symptoms,” said Lam, whose students conducted the survey. “Under these circumstances, all scores will be lower.”

Happy or sad? Hongkongers optimistic despite being dissatisfied, survey shows

The latest happiness index was compiled from 1,077 questionnaires completed by participants in Kowloon and the New Territories between September 9 and September 23 – three months after anti-government protests broke out across the city and continued to intensify.

(From left) Dr Lam Ching, Assistant Professor at Polytechnic University, Dr Szeto Wing Fu, HK. WeCare adviser, and Eugene Fong, HK.WeCare research subcommittee chairman. Photo: Gigi Choy

The survey did not canvas respondents living on Hong Kong Island, and more than 60 per cent of respondents were 34 years old or younger.

The findings showed a rise in mental health issues among Hongkongers that Lam described as “alarming”.

About 3.5 per cent of respondents said they had suicidal thoughts every day, and almost 11 per cent had suicidal thoughts for more than a week.

Floor traders at the Hong Kong stock exchange. The findings showed an “alarming” rise in mental health issues. Photo: Dickson Lee

Used as a comparison, a recent study led by Professor Gabriel Leung, dean of Hong Kong University’s faculty of medicine, found the rate of residents probably suffering from depression was 9.1 per cent of the population.

The HK.WeCare survey, however, found that around 18.5 per cent of respondents exhibited moderately severe to severe depressive symptoms.

“If Professor Leung talked about a depression epidemic, I would say it is more widespread,” Lam said. “It is an increasing trend that lots of depressive problems or symptoms are appearing in the general public, including in students.”

Hongkongers not so sad after all, survey finds, and family has big part to play

Dr Szeto Wing-fu, a HK.WeCare adviser, said it was important for people to improve how they cope with depression and negative environments. This includes doing more happiness-increasing activities, such as sports, or strengthening relationships with others and building resilience through positive thinking and mindfulness-based stress reduction.

Lam said any Hongkongers who have any questions about their mental health should take the HK.WeCare questionnaire. He said those who score of 15 or above on the depressive symptoms section should seek professional help.

If you, or someone you know, are having suicidal thoughts, help is available. For Hong Kong, dial +852 2896 0000 for The Samaritans or +852 2382 0000 for Suicide Prevention Services. In the US, call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on +1 800 273 8255. For a list of other nations’ helplines, see this page

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