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Mental health crisis hits Hong Kong during coronavirus pandemic

13 Oct 2020

Despite the absence of lockdown and having managed outbreaks well, Hong Kong has suffered a mental health emergency during the coronavirus pandemic, with older and underprivileged individuals being hit the hardest, according to a study.

Researchers looked at data from Hong Kong Family and Health Information Trend Survey (FHInTS) in 2016 (n=4,036) and 2017 (n=4,051) and compared it against the COVID-19 Health Information Survey (CoVHInS) data obtained between April 9 and 23 (n=1,501).

The prevalence of anxiety (General Anxiety Disorders 2), depressive symptoms (Patient Health Questionnaire-2), and subjective unhappiness (4-point Likert item), as well as stress levels (Perceived Stress Scale 4), were similar in 2016 and 2017. However, the mental health symptoms increased dramatically during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Specifically, stress level increased by 28.3 percent, prevalence of anxiety jumped by 42.3 percent, while the number of those with depression symptoms and unhappiness doubled (p<0.001 for all).

Subgroup analyses by sex, age, and education showed that older adults (aged >60 years) were the most vulnerable to the mental health impact of the pandemic, and less educated individuals were more likely to have increased stress levels (p<0.001 for all).

In light of the findings, the researchers pointed out the urgent need for targeted public health interventions. Health information and communication should also be accessible and available within the community, considering that there are individuals who are not comfortable in seeking and processing online information.

The use of social media and urgent mobilization of voluntary community social support and emergency remedy may help reduce the harms from mental health problems especially in the most vulnerable, the researchers added.

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Elvira Manzano, 28 Aug 2020

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