Members Area Logout
News News Pandemic Minds: How Covid-1...

Pandemic Minds: How Covid-19 Restrictions Impacted Our Mental Health and What We Can Learn From It

Multi-colored face masks. Only two people at a table before 6pm — no one afterwards. Scanning the “LeaveHomeSafe” app before entering restaurants and other public areas. Empty airports and fully booked quarantine hotels. Newborn babies torn from their mothers in the delivery room. Elderly patients dying on stretchers outside overflowing hospitals. Penny’s Bay.

These scenes from the COVID-19 pandemic that stalled daily life in Hong Kong for more than three years may seem as if they’re from a lifetime ago, but as FCC member and author Kate Whitehead reminds us, it was only last March when Hong Kong residents could go outside without wearing masks for the first time in 945 days. Though pandemic restrictions have been lifted, the mental health issues they caused have lingered, and in many cases gotten worse.

As a journalist and licensed psychotherapist, Whitehead said she thought it was important to document how the pandemic affected mental health in Hong Kong instead of simply forgetting about it now that life has moved on. Last year, she spent six months interviewing people from all walks of life for her new book Pandemic Minds: COVID-19 and Mental Health in Hong Kong (Hong Kong University Press). At an FCC Club Lunch shortly after the book’s publication in May, Whitehead told First Vice President Jennifer Jett about her writing process as well as coping techniques to promote mental well-being during challenging times.

Kate Whitehead. Photo: FCC

“Half the book is made up of first-person accounts of the pandemic, and I wanted to get all those stories when people still remembered all the details of it,” Whitehead said.

In the process of interviewing and writing, she met all kinds of people — rich, poor, local, expat, young, old — who were willing to share their stories. While many of them chose to use pseudonyms, Whitehead found all of their anecdotes useful in giving a comprehensive view of mental health in pandemic-era Hong Kong.

“It’s good to share your story… If you identify with an element in a story, it just makes you feel like, ‘OK, I’m not alone,’ right? And then that might empower you to share your story with someone else. These kinds of sharing of stories and talking about it — that is what breaks down stigma,” she explained.

One of the key takeaways from her interviews and writing process was how people in Hong Kong dealt with the uncertainty that the pandemic brought, which Whitehead finds to be crucial in maintaining good mental health.

“There is always going to be uncertainty, so you’ve just got to accept [it]. First of all, look at the situation and go, ‘Well, there are certain things that I can’t change and I’m just going to have to accept them. Certain things are out of my control,’” she said.

Kate Whitehead. Photo: FCC

Whitehead also included tips and “grounding exercises” in each chapter to help readers deal with stressful scenarios in their daily lives — pandemic or not.

Pandemic Minds also includes what Whitehead described as “happy chapters” that highlight some of the positive aspects of the pandemic, including how Hong Kong built new communities and individuals triumphed over difficult circumstances. One of these happy chapters explores the healing power of nature and the local hiking boom that was born from gym closures and residents’ desire to get out of the house.

Another “silver lining” of the pandemic is that it raised awareness about mental health in Hong Kong that is based on shared experience, and made these issues easier to talk about.

“So many of us — whether it was us personally or someone close to us — [were] going through something. I think it’s a silver lining that we talk about it now,” Whitehead said.

It’s important to have these discussions about mental health, she said, so that Hong Kong can be better prepared for similar situations in the future.

“If we’re planning for when there’s going to be another pandemic — it’s on the cards, it’s not a matter of if, it’s when — let’s learn from what happened,” Whitehead said.

“We really need to learn from this pandemic to make the next one less stressful.”

Watch the full talk on our YouTube channel below:

We measure site performance with cookies to improve performance.