The EOC Urges the Public to Accept the Siting of Integrated Community Centres for Mental Wellness
The Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) has expressed concern about the opposition of a number of residents to the plan of New Life Psychiatric Rehabilitation Association to set up an Integrated Community Centre for Mental Wellness (ICCMW) at the site of a former centre of The Boys’ & Girls’ Clubs Association near Mei Wai House at Mei Lam Estate in Shatin. Responding to the residents’ worries that the service users of the ICCMW would affect the safety of the neighbourhood, the EOC urges members of the community to drop their worries and a “not in my backyard” (NIMBY) mentality, and accept the siting of the ICCMW as proposed.
Prof Alfred CHAN Cheung-ming, Chairperson of the EOC said, “Offering one-stop, comprehensive and recovery-oriented community services, ICCMWs assist and follow up with former mental illness patients and people troubled with mental health problems while providing support for their families and carers. They also conduct public education to enhance understanding and awareness of mental health issues. These centres are established within the community not only to serve residents in the neighbourhood, but also to empower service users to adapt and reintegrate into society, so that they can lead a quality life, which would in turn help promote social inclusion and harmony.”
Prof Chan added, “In recent years, ICCMWs have met with constant resistance from the local community in securing permanent sites, which reflects a continued misunderstanding and lack of knowledge about persons with mental illness and a widespread NIMBY mentality among the public. According to the EOC’s ‘Study on the Challenges Encountered in the Siting of ICCMWs and other Social Welfare Facilities in Hong Kong’ released in 2016, among 19 ICCMWs that had consulted the public on their siting, nine faced opposition. Reasons frequently cited include: ‘persons with mental illness / ex-mentally ill patients have a propensity for violence’; ‘service users of ICCMWs would cause disturbance to residents’; and ‘the setting up of an ICCMW would attract persons with mental illness to congregate in the neighbourhood and have a negative impact on law and order’. All these reveal persistent misconceptions about persons with mental illness that continue to circulate in our city.”
“Drawing a link between persons with mental illness or ex-mentally ill persons and a propensity for violence distorts the truth and reinforces stigma,” said Prof Chan. “Psychiatrists have pointed out that the majority of persons with mental health problems are not prone to violence. And those who are – accounting for a mere five per cent of the entire population of persons with mental illness – developed a tendency for violent behaviour mostly because they did not have access to appropriate and timely treatment. In fact, overseas research has shown that there is essentially no difference in terms of propensity for violent crime between persons with and without mental illness from the same neighbourhood. Therefore, any attempt to equate mental illness with violence is evidently misguided.”
There have been past cases where residents and district councillors, in opposing the construction of an ICCMW amid public housing estates in their neighbourhood, put up banners and posters, claiming that persons with mental illness and ex-mentally ill persons were prone to violence, and that service users of the centre would cause disturbance to them. The EOC wishes to remind members of the public that such acts may violate the Disability Discrimination Ordinance (DDO). Under the DDO, it is against the law to vilify persons with disabilities (PWDs). Vilification is defined as an activity in public which incites hatred towards, serious contempt for, or severe ridicule of PWDs. Such activity includes any form of communication to the public, such as speaking, writing, printing, displaying notices and broadcasting. Between 2012 and 2017, 33 complaints about disability vilification were lodged with the EOC under the DDO.
Prof Chan calls on the Government to work with various sectors to eradicate the stigma and prejudice around mental illness. “When picking the site for an ICCMW, the institutions concerned should strengthen their communication with the public, residents and community leaders, in order to alleviate their worries about the centre and its service users, and to encourage acceptance of the idea of having an ICCMW in the neighbourhood. Above all, we should all rid ourselves of our NIMBY attitude and play our part in creating a pluralistic and inclusive society, where everyone can enjoy equal opportunity, gain access to treatment and full recovery, and rebuild a healthy and fulfilling life.”
Equal Opportunities Commission
2 May 2018