Motion on “Improving the Mental and Psychological Heath of the Public and Promoting the Development of Hong Kong’s Counselling Profession” (2023.02.08)

MR CHAN KIN-POR (in Cantonese): Thank you, Deputy President. According to the World Happiness Report 2022 published by the United Nations, Hong Kong is ranked 81st out of 146 countries or cities in the world. Although such reports are often politically oriented and not very credible, the statistics of the Hong Kong Jockey Club Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention of The University of Hong Kong show that an average of about 900 people commit suicide in Hong Kong every year, with the suicide rates of teenagers and the elderly on the rise. Therefore, I am very grateful to Ms Lillian KWOK for moving today’s motion, which gives us an opportunity to discuss how to improve the mental and psychological health of the public.

Why do Hong Kong people have psychological health problems? I believe that these problems appear in different stages of life and at different ages for different reasons, and there are obviously different ways to address them. I would particularly want to talk about the problems of the elderly and young people. In recent years, the ageing of society and the reduction in family size have led to significant changes in people’s lifestyles. Although elderly people are living longer, it is inevitable that their health will deteriorate. A longer life also means that their original retirement savings will become apparently insufficient. Consequently, elderly people are struggling to make ends meet in their retirement, and their hard life will naturally make them unhappy. On the other hand, the problems of young people lie in the rapid development of technology, which has overwhelmed them with a large amount of information during their growth process, including undesirable information which has seriously distorted their values and affected their psychological health. Regrettably, online information is not subject to any regulation. If young people do not know how to make wise choices, they will continue to be poisoned by undesirable information, and their parents will have no way of influencing them.

I therefore support the Government in developing the counselling profession to train more psychological counsellors to help the people in need, especially young people. At present, while there are social workers stationed in schools, most schools lack professional counsellors. The responsibilities of social workers include reaching out to students and the assessment, follow-up and referral of their cases; while professional counsellors mainly focus on providing psychological counselling. The roles of the two are not the same. Although school-based social workers can help students, schools also need professional counsellors because currently students’ psychological problems are becoming more and more serious. At present, the biggest problem is the absence of a uniform system for the counselling profession. There are basically no objective criteria for recruiting counsellors by schools. That is why the Government needs to establish a uniform professional system.

Apart from counselling work, I think we should tackle the problems at the root. At present, most schools have set up counselling teams, and primary and secondary schools have implemented education on personal growth and values, incorporating some elements of life education and psychological health. In addition, the Education Bureau has launched a student mental health information website and carried out a lot of publicity work. Although these efforts have been somewhat effective, objectively speaking, students’ mental health problems are getting increasingly serious, which reflects the inadequacy of the work in this area.

I believe that it is necessary to enhance and integrate life and moral education for inclusion in the existing curriculum. Some people may be concerned that adding new content to the current heavy curriculum will intensify the learning pressure on students. Nevertheless, I believe that life and moral education is very important for students because it will help them develop the right beliefs in life and learn to deal with stress and negative emotions, which will be useful throughout their lives.

In addition, I have been advocating a “work-life balance”, one objective of which is to encourage young people to use their free time to develop their interests in life, such as sports, hiking and doing volunteer work, on the premise that they do have free time after work, i.e. their work does not take up all their time. When young people have found their spiritual sustenance, they will naturally have the right values in life and will be able to handle stress and avoid negative emotions properly. I therefore hope that the Government will continue to promote and follow up the work in this area.

Thank you, Deputy President.

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