27th May 2024 – (Hong Kong) The grave of Wong Ka-kui, the late lead vocalist of the legendary Hong Kong band Beyond, was severely damaged last Sunday (19th May). The suspects, a 15-year-old teenager and his 23-year-old friend, have since been arrested and charged with criminal damage. As video footage of the desecration spread like wildfire online, it has not only incited anger but also raised concerns about the disturbing trend of attention-seeking behaviour and the pursuit of online notoriety.

The incident, which the police believe was motivated by a desire to gain views and followers on social media, is set to go to court again on 25th June. However, beyond the public condemnation, it has also shone a spotlight on the worrying phenomenon of individuals going to extreme lengths for online validation. Chow Cheung-shun, the executive director of the Concord Mutual-Aid Club Alliance, notes that while some offenders may claim mental illness in an attempt to evade punishment, the real issue is society’s tendency to attribute violent incidents solely to mental disorders. This not only deepens public prejudice and misunderstanding towards those with genuine mental health issues but also discourages patients from seeking help, hindering their recovery.

Research and statistics have consistently shown that those with mental illnesses are far less likely to exhibit violent behaviour compared to the general population. Rather than relying on mental disorders as a catch-all explanation, society should critically examine the underlying causes behind each incident. Even if the perpetrator does have a mental illness, it is difficult to definitively attribute their actions to their condition alone, as factors such as family circumstances, economic pressures, work-related issues, and interpersonal relationships can all play a role.

The arrested teenager in this case had a history of posting outrageous videos on social media and had previously claimed to have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and split personality, sparking significant controversy. Registered counselling psychologist Dr. Stephen Mann explains that ADHD encompasses three different conditions: inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity, which can manifest individually or simultaneously in patients.

While Dr. Mann acknowledges that some ADHD patients may engage in disruptive behaviour towards others, he emphasizes that this varies from person to person and is not inherently linked to the disorder itself. The vast majority of individuals with mental illnesses do not harass others due to their condition. In terms of treatment, he notes that there are now many relevant medications and psychological therapies available, including behavioural therapy and cognitive-behavioural therapy, all of which can effectively help patients manage their symptoms.

Regarding the phenomenon of attention-seeking on social media, Dr. Mann offers several psychological explanations. One common reason is self-image; when an individual has a poor self-image, they often crave recognition, care, and attention to boost their self-esteem and feel more secure and comfortable. Another factor is the need for validation; the stronger the desire for acceptance, the more likely one is to engage in online behaviour or pander to the masses to gain the approval of others.

According to data from the Hospital Authority, there were 51,372 new psychiatric outpatient appointments in 2023/24, with emergency new cases requiring an average waiting time of one week and stable new cases waiting up to 81 to 99 weeks. These figures do not even reflect the hidden mental health sufferers in the community. With the shortage of medical staff in public hospitals, the doctor-patient ratio in the Hospital Authority’s psychiatric departments is severely imbalanced, with an average of one doctor responsible for 761 patients. This far-from-ideal situation inevitably compresses consultation times, making it difficult for patients to thoroughly explain their symptoms and emotional distress, and for doctors to accurately grasp their condition, potentially leading to oversights in serious cases.

The Hong Kong government has repeatedly emphasised its commitment to mental health, but the services provided for patients are woefully inadequate. In addition to strengthening support for those with mental illnesses, the authorities should also extend care and assistance to their caregivers to alleviate their stress. Moreover, public education must be enhanced to deepen society’s understanding of mental disorders and eliminate discrimination, ensuring that patients do not shy away from seeking help and treatment due to negative stigma.

The vandalism of Wong Ka-kui’s grave is not an isolated incident but a symptom of deeper societal issues that demand urgent attention. By addressing the root causes of attention-seeking behaviour, improving mental health support, and fostering a more understanding and inclusive society, we can hope to prevent such distressing incidents from occurring in the future.