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Wednesday, Oct 04, 2023

Remember young Hongkongers’ mental health when shaping their future

Remember young Hongkongers’ mental health when shaping their future

Hong Kong needs its young people to secure its future, and our new generations need not just job opportunities but more support and a sense of hope. The city’s first youth blueprint puts emphasis on creating opportunities, but neglecting young people’s mental health in the discussion will be costly.
Hong Kong recently announced its first youth blueprint. Commissioner for Youth Wallace Lau Ka-ki suggested the government would like to “provide an enabling environment for young people to unleash their full potential”. Hong Kong needs its young people to secure its future, and our new generations need more opportunities, more support and, more importantly, a real sense of hope for their future.

This generation is like no other. They are growing up in a fast-changing digital era, and Hong Kong is undergoing rapid changes itself. The problems they face can be complicated, leading to enormous stress, adjustment difficulties and threats to their mental health.

Mental health has become a major public health problem locally and globally. We see a substantial number young people seeking help from Open Up, the online emotional support platform for youth aged up to 35 funded by Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Trust and run by five NGOs and our centre.

From January to November this year, there were more than 88,000 incoming cases. Around 5 per cent of these cases were of high suicidal risk or crisis cases, which means they might have suicidal ideation, attempts or even be in suicidal crisis when they reach Open Up.

This brings attention to the emotional needs of Hong Kong youth. About 45 per cent of users revealed they had never discussed their problem with others before they came to Open Up. Traditional youth social services have not managed to serve those who usually hide themselves in social media.

The Open Up platform allows us to look into the problems young people face nowadays. The most common issues presented this year include emotional problems, intimacy issues and family relationships, followed by pressure from school and work.

The observation aligns with the findings from the studies on death notes of suicide victims, carried out by our centre with the coroner’s court. However, most of the cases showed more than one issue of concern. These issues are interconnected and cannot be untangled easily.

While Open Up is an anonymous, text-based counselling platform, the counsellors also provide the option of thematic care to users in need. Six to eight counselling sessions with specific goals set out will be arranged for the users to tackle their main concerns through online counselling.

As users do not have to disclose their identity and can receive the service online, Open Up aims to encourage youth in need to seek help. Knowing they can receive help in a way they are comfortable with, we hope they could feel being heard and being cared for.

If we listen to young people’s emotional needs more closely, it is not difficult to see many of them feel estranged from their family or not understood by others. That is why we want to keep them company and let them know they are never alone. In fact, there are many social resources available which young people might not know about.

Several cases on Open Up have been referred to other offline services, and these young people have consistently joined these services ever since. What we need to do is simply to reach out and give a hand to these lost youngsters, showing them an alternative pathway for their life and giving them hope.

Sometimes, simply being heard or being cared for, even by a stranger, can help one find life meaningful again when they are in doubt, despair and darkness. At the same time, it is our responsibility to build a brighter pathway for our young generation. The youth report puts emphasis on creating opportunities, but any neglect of mental health in the discussion of youth development can be costly.

In this new year, let us join hands and give our youth hope for the future. They can set realistic goals and specific pathways to reach those goals. Hong Kong needs young people who are not only well-trained technically but mentally fit for future challenges. We need to create a more inclusive society so we can build a stronger sense of belonging and continue to excel for ourselves and for Hong Kong.

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