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Raising mental health awareness in Hong Kong

Hannah Reidy
Hannah Reidy, CEO of Mind HK

Mental health is a growing problem around the world and its impact is significant – on individuals, families, businesses and the broader economy. World Health Organization (WHO) statistics show that 264 million people suffer from depression globally; depression and anxiety disorders cost the global economy US$1 trillion each year in lost productivity. The WHO says companies that promote mental health and offer support to staff with mental health issues are more likely to reduce absenteeism, increase productivity and benefit from associated economic gains.

A big part of the problem is the stigma that still surrounds mental health, and the barriers that need to be broken down to make individuals and enterprises more aware of the issue. Supported by the United Kingdom mental health charity of the same name, Mind HK was founded by the Patient Care Foundation (PCF), a charity passionate about improving healthcare in Hong Kong. The PCF recognised the problem of mental health in Hong Kong and looked to London for ideas on how to help people in its own city.

Mind HK CEO Hannah Reidy recently spoke to Hong Kong Means Business about the organisation’s work.

What were some of the challenges of setting up the charity and how did you overcome them?
We worked with the United Kingdom’s largest mental health charity, Mind UK, to bring international best practice to Hong Kong and help change the conversation around mental health. One of the key barriers we had to work to break was language. Mind UK kindly donated their mental health open resources for our use. To make it Hong Kong-specific, we worked with the University of Hong Kong to localise and translate the information. We are eager to build a library of open resources for Hongkongers, to ensure they have increased access to the appropriate knowledge and services.

What is your current focus for Hong Kong?
Our core focus is to destigmatise mental health and normalise the topic, and the key mission of our website, training offerings and campaigns is to ensure that no one in Hong Kong has to face a mental health problem alone. We currently offer Mental Health 101, a 1.5-hour introductory course to mental health, and Mental Health First Aid (MHFA), a 12-hour internationally accredited course. We don’t offer any front-line services, but are continuously making our directory of services available in Hong Kong more comprehensive. Our biggest campaign in the coming year will be our World Mental Health Day campaign in October and our Move it for Mental Health initiative in early 2020.

How well do you think Hong Kong businesspeople understand the importance of mental health to business performance?
The relationship between good health, mental and physical, and business performance is largely misunderstood and unknown in Hong Kong. Our city has among the longest working hours in the world [an average of 50 hours per week according to a survey conducted by UBS], but this does not automatically equate with peak productivity levels. The cost of health-related absence and presenteeism [employees not working at maximum capacity] in business is significant and should be taken into consideration by all: an average of HK$5,742,707 per organisation and 70 days per year of productivity cost per employee [AIA Vitality, 2017].

What work do you do with businesses in Hong Kong to address the impact of mental health issues in the workplace?
We offer Mental Health 101 and MHFA training to businesses to help improve mental-health literacy in workplaces and ensure employees are best equipped to support their colleagues who are facing a mental health problem or crisis. Our team is currently in the process of creating a longer, workplace-specific mental health literacy training programme, which will be available in the coming months.

We also work closely with the City Mental Health Alliance Hong Kong (CMHA HK), a membership-based organisation whose mission is to create mentally healthy workplaces. According to a CMHA HK report in 2017, only 10% of corporate workers feel as if they receive sufficient support in their workplace and 30% of those who experienced a mental health problem felt comfortable enough to speak to someone at work about it. This is in part due to stigma and a lack of support policies in place. We are eager to continue developing campaigns, holding training courses and events, and promoting open resources to best enable organisations to create mentally healthy environments.

What advice would you give to business owners and managers looking to get a better understanding of how mental health issues might affect members of their team?
Learn about mental health: talking to people who have lived through the experience of mental health problems, or who are well informed, will help you better understand how to approach situations and break any existing stigma around it. It is especially important for senior leaders and managers to be aware of the many warning signs that may indicate a mental health problem. We advise managers to receive some form of mental health literacy training, be it Mental Health 101 or MHFA training, in order for them to do just this and be more understanding of problems their staff may come to them with.

Leaders should make it known to their staff members that mental health is important – show that there is help available in the organisation and make note of who staff members can speak to if they need help. Simply bringing up the topic of mental health to employees will immediately destigmatise it, enabling workers to feel more comfortable to speak out about any problems and seek help. Creating a mentally healthy workplace requires senior leaders to set the precedent – enforcing flexible hours and styles will not work if your manager stays in the office until 9pm daily.  

What one single thing could we all do to improve our mental health?
Exercise is a great way for everyone to improve mental well-being. Getting moving a few times a week, or even once a week, can make a big difference to mental health. More than half of the Hong Kong population does not achieve the recommended levels of physical activity, and this is a particular problem among the younger generation. Even a simple walk can have a positive effect on one’s mood, emotional regulation and stress levels.

Related link
Mind HK

Content provided by Hong Kong Trade Development Council
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