Depression hits 'epidemic level'

Top News | Jane Cheung 12 Jul 2019

One in 11 people suffer from depression - a new high - following the extradition bill saga, researchers say.

A University of Hong Kong team also warned there is no way of telling if the epidemic-like depression is easing or will become worse.

The team surveyed 1,200 people between June 22 and July 7 and found 9.1 percent had "probable depression." Additionally, 4.6 percent of respondents had suicidal thoughts.

The incidence of depression was seven times higher than in 2011, when the first such survey was run. Then it was 1.3 percent.

And it is considerably worse than during the Umbrella Movement in 2014, when the depression rate was 5.3 percent and 3.6 percent had suicidal thoughts.

The team has so far referred to psychiatrists 68 of the respondents who have self-harmed or are suicidal.

Gabriel Leung, the university's dean of medicine, said despite most protesters in recent demonstrations being young people they were the least depressed among age groups. Six percent were in their 20s and 7.8 percent in their 30s.

Middle-aged and the elderly respondents were the most depressed, with 12 percent between 50 and 59 and 11.5 percent aged 60 or more.

Still, Leung said, the increase in depression was seen across both genders and in all age groups and districts, indicating the rise was rooted in the general social atmosphere.

It was also apparent across the political divide.

"Take the recent fugitive bill controversy as a reference," Leung said. "Not only were those who participated in protests and rallies depressed but those who were not against the bill also shared the same feelings."

Conflicts between family members or friends with different political opinions might also trigger arguments and depressive thoughts.

Describing depression in Hong Kong as an "epidemic," Leung said it was "no different" from infectious diseases like SARS or bird and swine flu.

"But it's even more unpredictable because we have no vaccine or effective medication to cure it," he added.

"Neither can we foresee when the epidemic will come to an end. We don't know whether we've reached the peak or are still on an upward trend."

Leung said the statistics were from a scientific point of view, and he would not comment on reasons behind the deterioration.

But the government should listen to voices from the younger generation and put their opinions into action while looking out for mental distress in older people, he added.

"As a member of the Youth Development Commission, it's important to know and understand how young people think," he said.

He also called upon people to be vigilant of their own conditions and to pay attention to those around them.

Chang Wing-chung, a professor in HKU's Department of Psychiatry, said symptoms of depression include a reduced appetite, insomnia, persistent sadness, a loss of motivation and feelings of hopelessness and helplessness.

"Those who observe these symptoms should seek help from mental health professionals promptly," he said.

At the sharp end of the trend, hundreds of people gathered yesterday at the Hong Kong Funeral Home in North Point to pay tribute to 35-year-old Leung Ling-kit, who fell to his death last month at Pacific Place while protesting against the fugitive amendment bill.

A memorial display in a park next to the funeral home featured 2,000 sunflowers, and hundreds of citizens wrote in a memorial booklet.

Among the entries were "Hongkongers love you" and "Take a good rest and we [will] continue to strive."

A private funeral will be held this morning.

More reports:

Semblance of order returns to Legco

Violence should never be glorified, says Wang

Unrest 'not just a problem' among youth

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