Hong Kong’s mental health slumped to a record low in 2020, according to an annual survey citing the Covid-19 pandemic and turmoil stemming from last year’s anti-government protests among the likely causes of the decline.
Findings of the study released on Wednesday showed the average mental health index for Hongkongers this year was 45.12, lower than the 46.41 recorded in 2019.
Scoring below 52 in the survey, which is organised by the Mental Health Month Organising Committee and launched in 2012, indicates an unsatisfactory psychological state.
From late June to early July, the phone survey asked 1,002 Hongkongers aged 15 and above how factors such as career, health and social controversies had affected them.
Previous polling carried out in January aimed to understand how the protest-related turmoil in Hong Kong last year affected their mental health. That generated an even lower index average of 44.48.
Dr Ivan Mak Wing-chit, convenor of the research working group under the committee, said the combination of social controversies and the coronavirus pandemic had a major impact on well-being this year.
“When facing social controversies, the chance of triggering trauma is likely to be higher,” said Mak, a psychiatrist. “The epidemic was like a situation of pulling a rubber band tightly.
“Social controversies and the epidemic came one after another, and their impacts still remain in society.”
The situation also led more people to worry about their personal prospects, Mak added.
The term “social controversies” was not clearly defined in the questionnaire but could be interpreted as referring to the political and social divisions that have roiled Hong Kong since last summer.
For the latter half of 2019, Hong Kong was consumed by anti-government protests sparked by the now-abandoned extradition bill. The imposition of the Beijing-decreed national security law in Hong Kong on June 30 also provoked discontent in the city.
According to this summer’s survey, 54.5 per cent of interviewees said social controversies had a “very large” or “relatively large” negative impact on their mental health.
Younger interviewees, those aged between 15 and 34, were found to be the most affected age group.
Nearly 40 per cent of all interviewees said their emotions were negatively impacted by the Covid-19 crisis, which has unfolded in Hong Kong since late January.
While the city has averted total lockdown, for some of the year entertainment venues and outdoor recreational facilities have temporarily closed to help curb the spread of the virus, as part of the drive to get the public to avoid social gatherings.
More than 330 of the respondents described the social controversies as traumatic for them, while 107 people said they had encountered the same feeling over the epidemic.
Dr May Lam Mei-ling, a psychiatrist also from the research working group, said she had noticed more people experiencing emotional issues since the third wave of Covid-19 emerged in the city two months ago.
She advised people to follow the seven steps to happiness, such as maintaining good conversation with family members, staying grateful and regular exercising.
“One should take note of their emotions, and do more things that could make them happy,” Lam said.
Mak said while authorities around the world were using social distancing to stall the coronavirus, he said the concept should be thought of as physical distancing but maintaining social contact.
“Probably we don’t need social distancing, but we need distant socialising,” Mak said, urging people to still connect with others through phone or video calls.
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