Survey highlights mental health crisis among 30% of ethnic minorities with language as key barrier

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1st February 2024 – (Hong Kong) Nearly 30% of ethnic minorities in Hong Kong are grappling with a high risk of mental health issues, exacerbated by significant barriers in accessing help. The survey, conducted jointly by Hong Kong Christian Service (HKCS), the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s Department of Psychiatry, and the University of Hong Kong’s Department of Social Work and Social Administration, spotlights the cultural and linguistic obstacles that hamper the provision of mental health support to these communities.

From January to August 2023, the survey interviewed 273 individuals from South and Southeast Asian backgrounds, uncovering that a worrisome 28.6% were at high risk for mental disorders. The research findings advocate a multi-faceted approach to dismantle the barriers faced by ethnic minorities, including enhancing their understanding of mental health services, fostering cross-sectoral support for ethnic minority workers, and refining the existing mental health service framework.

The investigation revealed a troubling lack of awareness about mental health resources among ethnic minorities, with 37.0% unsure of where to turn for help. Stigma continues to cloud the issue, with 32.6% of respondents considering mental health problems a source of shame. Financial burdens and time constraints were also significant deterrents, with 68.9% citing high costs and 48.7% indicating busy schedules as obstacles to seeking help. Notably, full-time and self-employed individuals, particularly males, were the most affected by these hurdles.

The survey identified high-risk groups within the ethnic minorities, with 22.8% at risk of depression, and around one-tenth at risk of anxiety or insomnia. The high-risk individuals reported a lower quality of life and greater difficulty in accessing help. Mike Cheung from HKCS highlighted the vicious cycle faced by this group, who, without adequate support, are more likely to suffer in silence.

The research team has proposed several targeted recommendations to improve mental health support for ethnic minorities:

  1. Enhancing Awareness of Mental Health Services:
    The government and NGOs need to better disseminate information about available mental health services, addressing misconceptions and reducing stigma.
  2. Promoting Cross-Sectoral Collaboration:
    Employers should be encouraged to provide mental health support for ethnic minority employees, with the government offering financial incentives for small and medium-sized enterprises to join the ‘Employee Assistance Programme’.
  3. Refining Existing Mental Health Services:
    Incorporate mental health support into the ‘Primary Healthcare Blueprint’ and the ‘District Health Centre’. Additionally, hiring ethnic minority staff in mental health service roles could bridge communication gaps and foster better cultural understanding.

Paul Wong from HKU underscored the importance of cultural diversity and sensitivity in providing effective mental health services, stating that it is essential for avoiding prejudices and delivering more personalized care.

In a bid to specifically address the mental health needs of ethnic minorities, the CUHK’s Department of Psychiatry has launched ‘Salamat’, a multilingual online mental health support platform. As explained by Steven Chau, the platform provides an initial screening, followed by a report and guidance on seeking further help, all tailored to the unique needs of ethnic minorities.

The study’s findings and subsequent recommendations present a clarion call for action to protect the mental well-being of one of Hong Kong’s most vulnerable populations. With concerted efforts from the government, healthcare providers, and the community at large, there is hope that the barriers to mental health support for ethnic minorities can be overcome, paving the way for more inclusive and effective healthcare services.