Seminar on Mental Health Policy
The Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) and the Hong Kong Mental Health Council (HKMHC) jointly held the Seminar on Mental Health Policy today (Thursday, 9 May 2013), urging the Government to formulate a comprehensive and long term policy for the enhancement of mental health services and the elimination of stigma attached to mental illness in our society.
The appeal won support from the key stakeholders attending the Seminar held at the EOC, including service users and their family members, healthcare professionals and social workers.
‘Mental Health Policy is not just a policy for mental patients. Mental Health Policy is a policy for all of us. There is no absolute border between “we” and “they”. At one time or the other, we may have ups and downs in our life and hence mental illness is a possibility that faces all members of society,’ says Dr. York Chow Yat-ngok, Chairperson of the EOC.
Dr. Chan Chung-mau, as Convenor of the HKMHC, announced their preliminary position paper entitled “Policy on Mental Health for All” in the Seminar, which made an urgent appeal to the government for political will, budget and time-table to formulate a comprehensive mental health policy with three main objectives:
- To reduce the prevalence of mental illness and mental health problem, in order to minimize the impact of mental illness on the society;
- To promote the recovery of the mental patients and to provide quality healthcare services for them; and
- To promote the mental well-being of the population as a whole.
‘Mental health requires more than a medical solution as they are influenced by a number of socio-economic factors. Labour, welfare, housing and education policies all have a role to play in treatment and rehabilitation. Responsibility for promoting mental health extends to all government departments. Hence what we need is a comprehensive policy as well as a high level broad-based central coordination body – the Mental Health Commission to proactively co-ordinate and to monitor the formulation of policies and implementation of action plans,’ says Dr. Chan Chung-mau.
In light of the widespread discrimination experienced by people with mental illness, Dr. Chow believes that a human rights perspective is essential in mapping out the mental health policy of Hong Kong:
‘The barrier for mental patients may not be physical, but attitudinal. Discrimination against and stigma attached to mental illness will prevent persons from seeking help until a crisis occurs, which in turn, will further stamp the stigma on persons with mental illness and a vicious circle will continue. Many suffering from mental health conditions will find themselves excluded from work and education, which will lead to a downward spiral of poverty, family problems and deteriorating mental and physical health.’
Dr. Chow calls for a mental health policy in line with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and other international human rights instruments with an emphasis on school as well as public education. He suggests, on the one hand, the inclusion of mental health education into the school curriculum, so as to enhance the understanding of mental illness among young people, and to boost their immunity – the ability of living with pressure; on the other hand, the continuous provision of public education, in order to raise the awareness of mental health and to eliminate the stigma attached to mental illness.
Discrimination on the ground of a person’s mental illness is unlawful under the Disability Discrimination Ordinance. For the past three years (2010-2012), the EOC received an average of 100 complaints of disability discrimination on the ground of mental illness each year. On average, around 70% of complaints investigated are in the employment field.
Manpower planning is also central in the delivery of services. ‘At the end of 2012, only around 280 registered psychiatric specialists practise in Hong Kong, which means there are only 0.39 psychiatric specialist serving every 10,000 population, the ratio is much lower than the ratio of 1:10,000 recommended by the World Health Organisation. Increase in budget cannot raise the number of healthcare professionals overnight. Long term manpower planning is necessary,’ says Dr. Chan Chung-mau.
The Seminar on Mental Health Policy is the first of its kind that has invited a broad spectrum of stakeholders from various sectors including service users, to discuss the mental health issues with policy makers and service providers. Both co-organisers emphasized the importance of engaging service users and their family members in the development and implementation of mental health policies. They believe that service users should be given a formal role in the process of planning and designing related policy, so as to provide services more responsive to their needs.
For media inquiries, please contact Miss Mariana Law of the EOC at 2106-2226 or Mr. Stephen Cheung of the HKMHC at 2832-9208.
Equal Opportunities Commission & Hong Kong Mental Health Council
9 May 2013