The Covid-19 outbreak has had a devastating impact on the world’s health, including mental health, with many people struggling to cope with the disruption to normality.
Dr Hannah Reidy, a clinical psychologist and CEO of Mind Hong Kong, shared her insights on the impact of the pandemic with WEC Chairman Nikki Ng at a webinar on 6 October.
“Covid is affecting every group across the board,” Reidy explained. “For different reasons: it might be for economic reasons, separation from family, or older adults not having enough support.”
Around one in seven Hong Kong people report mental health problems in their lifetime. This is far below the global average of one in four, so it seems likely that the stigma around mental health here is causing it to be underreported. There is also a lack of awareness of mental health issues, and of the services that are available, she added: “So people are not getting the help they need.”
Covid-19 has exacerbated the situation, with recent research showing that around 50% of people have experienced worsening mental health.
“Mind Hong Kong has seen a surge in people accessing our website for information,” Reidy said. “The numbers have more than doubled since the start of the year.” Mind Hong Kong, a branch of the British non-profit organization, was launched in 2016 by a group of doctors who were worried about the lack of support in Hong Kong.
The ongoing uncertainty about the pandemic is one of the key factors causing unhappiness. “Something people are finding tough is that they are used to having a certain degree of autonomy in their lives, and that has all come crashing down.”
To deal with the stress, Reidy recommends finding things that you enjoy doing, and to be aware that what works for one person might not be suitable for another. Sitting still or lying down are not necessarily relaxing, she said, and it may be better to keep busy.
“Mental and physical health are so closely linked, so if you can continue to keep exercising you should,” she added.
The city’s youth have been experiencing growing mental health issues. This is not just due to the upheaval of the past year – a survey carried out in 2018 found that a quarter of young people in Hong Kong reported feeling high levels of anxiety.
“We are particularly concerned about young people,” Reidy said. “About the impact of life in Hong Kong as well as Covid.”
A recent study of young people found that although parents and teachers were concerned about the impact of social media, this was not a major factor mentioned by the teens themselves.
“The biggest issue was school and exam stress,” Reidy said. “Exams are difficult in Hong Kong and university places are limited, and there is a huge amount of pressure that young people put on themselves, and that they feel from their family.”
In terms of taking care of other people, Reidy noted that family and friends are usually the first to notice changes in behaviour. And while many people feel that they don’t have the skills to help others, taking time to listen is the first step.
“It sounds very simple, but many of us find it hard to talk to people when they are talking about something upsetting,” she said. “It’s also important to understand that you don’t have to be the person that solves the problem – just listening will help.”
Reidy also explained that for businesses that want to take care of their employees’ mental health, Mind has got a range of programmes aimed at fostering a healthy workplace.