Equal Opportunities Commission


Chairperson’s Articles

An inclusive mindset is necessary when formulating mental healthcare strategies


Following International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which falls on March 21 each year, I wish to focus on equal accessibility to mental health services. Mental health is a growing concern around the world and Hong Kong is no exception. A Chinese University of Hong Kong study published in November 2023 found that 24.4 percent of young people, aged 6 to 17, had experienced at least one mental health issue in 2022. Ethnic minorities in Hong Kong are affected equally. A recent survey among South and Southeast Asians in Hong Kong revealed that nearly 30 percent of them are at high risk of mental disorders.

Seeking help for mental health issues remains difficult, regardless of age or race, for many common reasons such as fear of being judged, not knowing where to seek help and thinking the problem will go away by itself. However, for ethnic minorities, the study found there are further obstacles when it comes to asking for and getting appropriate help, the most common of which being the cost (68.9 percent) and cultural and language barriers (56 percent).

The government has rolled out several measures to bolster mental health support for different segments of the population. The chief executive, in his October Policy Address, also announced the establishment of specific services to address mental health issues among ethnic minority communities.

The most desirable and cost-effective approach in the long run would be to have systems built in to cater to diversity from the get-go. Rather than take a remedial approach involving dedicated services, the same existing provisions should have inbuilt mechanisms to handle different needs. As a simple example, being able to book an interpretation service at the time of making a medical appointment should be incorporated into the booking system, rather than having to make a separate request for it. We hope advances in AI can be deployed to make this much simpler, faster and more convenient for ethnic minority patients in the near future. 

Apart from systems, the other intangible factor that can make a difference to help-seeking behavior is cultural sensitivity and having the right mindset. This should not simply be a list of dos and don’ts, but a mindset and an approach that can be trained. Investing in regular cultural sensitivity training for all healthcare staff, particularly those on the front line, equips them with the skills to handle people from diverse backgrounds, not just cultural, and also ensures that those receiving the service will have a positive experience. In this respect, I understand that the Hospital Authority has been providing its front line staff with cultural sensitivity training.

Culturally appropriate healthcare also requires training and is critical to ensuring the treatment continues, leading to better recovery outcomes. Being knowledgeable about cultural practices and beliefs will greatly benefit both the service provider and the recipient. Understandably, it is not possible for anyone to be fully aware of the intricacies of different cultures and practices. However, being open to asking and learning, and being flexible, is a positive step. Having advisers familiar with other cultures is a further step. The best solution would obviously be to have people from different cultures provide the service.

It is important to underline here that staff from diverse cultures can serve all patients and not just people from their own ethnicities. In my conversations with staff from diverse ethnic groups, they have repeatedly emphasized that they wish to serve all Hong Kong residents and not just people of their own race. It is this inclusive mindset that needs to be adopted when creating strategies around recruiting, training and delegating workers in healthcare as well as other service sectors.

As we mark the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination 2024, let us be reminded that diversity is an asset and inclusion is a conscious choice. By exercising that choice, we make diversity a productive force that benefits all society.


The article was published in China Daily on 17 March 2024.