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Rhapsody in Bert’s

Bert’s has hosted many a diverse gathering over the years, but one Saturday last November it was the venue for the first time for two training courses about mental health, led by the charity Mind Hong Kong, write Kuma Chow and Olivia Parker.

A survey by The Correspondent (see the October 2022 issue) found that journalists in Hong Kong are experiencing symptoms of depression, anxiety and PTSD at significantly higher levels than the rest of the population. Members of the profession made up a large part of the 30-strong audience at these engaging sessions, with some of the personal stories highlighting just how prominent mental health issues are in many people’s lives.

“This is not just an occasional occurrence,” said Dr Hannah Sugarman, a clinical psychologist and a lead clinical advisor for Mind Hong Kong, who ran the English- language session.

It’s completely normal to hover at the “struggling” end of the mental health spectrum for short periods of time, she explained. “Having negative emotions makes you human, not defective.”

Common mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety, however, are distinguishable from occasional low moods or jitters by the length and severity of symptoms. If you feel that you can’t get on with your life in the way you want to because of these symptoms, that’s when it’s worth seeking help, she said.

Henry Chan, training manager at Mind Hong Kong, who led the Cantonese-language session, said the long working hours and emphasis on perfectionism in some Asian cultures have contributed to stress levels among Hong Kong’s population. He suggested we try to get more in tune with the different stressors in our lives, which could have a combination of biological, social and psychological roots, and keep an eye on whether our chosen coping strategies are releasing stress or creating new problems.

Getting professional help is not always straightforward in Hong Kong, where shortages of public sector psychiatrists can mean waiting up to 94 weeks to get help. (The wait times for urgent cases are much shorter, Dr Sugarman noted.) Adding to the problem is a lack of awareness about mental health conditions and support, including among GPs, and the fact that mental health support is rarely covered by insurance policies. Other barriers are caused by language; and stigma about mental health conditions, which is still heavily felt in Hong Kong.

Help is available, however, said Dr Sugarman. Mind Hong Kong’s community directory, which lists more than 60 free to low-cost services provided by NGOs in Hong Kong, is a good place to start. And even if it’s the last thing you feel like doing, staying connected with anyone who you suspect might be struggling could help their mental health in very significant ways.

Mind Hong Kong’s training courses:

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