By Lau Kin-shing
The World Health Organization explicitly emphasizes the importance of mental health by stating, “There is no health without mental health.” A series of terrible and unfortunate events that happened in Hong Kong recently shocked society and has once again drawn public attention to the issue of mental health.
Many residents have expressed concerns over and recalled their personal experiences related to those events through various channels. But Hong Kong society must guard against overreacting to those events, lest it deepen the misunderstanding of and stigma associated with mental health conditions, ultimately leading to another mental health crisis.
Mental health is influenced by various factors, including societal and familial environments. Society, with its norms, expectations, and support systems, plays a significant role in shaping an individual’s mental well-being. Similarly, the family, as the primary social unit, greatly impacts an individual’s psychological health. Thus it is helpful to explore how society and family can contribute to mental distress and what strategies can facilitate positive transformation.
Society’s impact on mental health
Societal factors such as stress, pressure and social expectations can significantly influence an individual’s mental well-being. In today’s fast-paced and competitive world, individuals may face overwhelming societal pressures, leading to anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders. Social isolation, discrimination and stigma associated with mental health issues further compound these challenges.
To foster positive change, society must prioritize mental health and well-being. This can be achieved through public awareness campaigns, education, and de-stigmatization efforts. By promoting mental health literacy and correcting misconceptions, society can create an inclusive environment that supports and embraces individuals with mental health conditions. Building strong support networks, accessible mental health services, and fostering a culture of empathy and acceptance are vital steps in creating a society that promotes mental well-being.
Family dynamics and mental health
The family unit, as the primary source of support and socialization, plays a crucial role in an individual’s mental health. A nurturing and supportive family environment contributes to the development of a secure attachment, positive self-esteem and emotional well-being.
Conversely, an unhealthy or unsupportive family environment can contribute to the development of psychological distress. Family conflicts, members’ mental health issues, and a lack of intimate relationships can all have negative impacts on an individual’s mental well-being.
Effective communication within the family is also instrumental in maintaining an individual’s psychological health. Open and healthy communication fosters positive relationships, enhances intimacy and promotes understanding. Conversely, communication barriers, conflicts and silence can exacerbate psychological distress. Therefore, effective communication and emotional expression among family members are key to promoting individual mental well-being.
Mental health is influenced by various factors, including societal and familial environments. Society, with its norms, expectations, and support systems, plays a significant role in shaping an individual’s mental well-being. Similarly, the family, as the primary social unit, greatly impacts an individual’s psychological health. Thus it is helpful to explore how society and family can contribute to mental distress and what strategies can facilitate positive transformation
Strategies for positive change
To improve an individual’s mental health and well-being, a range of measures can be taken to improve societal and family environments.
At the societal level, emphasis should be placed on mental health education and awareness. Providing information and resources about mental health increases societal understanding and empathy toward mental health issues. Efforts should be made to reduce the stigma surrounding mental disorders, promoting social acceptance and support for individuals with mental health conditions. Additionally, establishing mental health support networks and resources helps individuals seek timely assistance and treatment. Most importantly, creating a supportive and caring social environment in which individuals feel understood, accepted and supported is crucial.
At the family level, prioritizing intimate family relationships and communication is essential. Understanding and support among family members play a vital role in an individual’s mental well-being. Creating a supportive and healthy family environment that provides a sense of security and love, and encourages open and positive communication, is key. Family members can engage in mental health education and training to enhance their understanding and coping skills regarding mental health issues. Simultaneously, providing mental health support and resources to family members enables them to better understand and support individuals dealing with mental health challenges.
Society and family environments have a profound impact on an individual’s mental health. Factors such as stress, isolation, societal expectations and stigma can contribute to mental distress. However, by improving societal and family environments, we can create supportive, understanding, and caring contexts that promote mental well-being.
To achieve this, it is crucial to prioritize mental health education, raise awareness and combat stigma at the societal level. Simultaneously, nurturing intimate family relationships and fostering effective communication within the family.
The HKSAR government has been implementing various measures to promote mental health education, such as the Shall We Talk program launched in 2020. Through these comprehensive efforts, positive messages about mental health are disseminated to the public, enhancing their understanding of mental well-being and encouraging individuals to seek assistance and treatment at an early stage. The objective is to reduce misunderstandings and discrimination against individuals with mental illnesses. Additionally, the government is committed to strengthening mental health support in the workplace. For instance, the implementation of the Mental Health Charter for the Workplace aims to establish a mentally healthy and supportive work environment. As of March, nearly 1,200 organizations have signed the charter across Hong Kong.
I strongly agreed with and was pleased by the government’s recent announcement of 10 enhanced support measures following the meeting of the Mental Health Advisory Committee under the Department of Health. These measures include the Hospital Authority exploring the prescription of newer and less side-effect-prone oral or injectable medications for patients in need of psychiatric care. The Hospital Authority will also complete a review of the “Conditional Release” mechanism under the Mental Health Ordinance and present the review results at the upcoming committee meeting next month. The government will formulate the next steps based on the review findings. Additionally, the Social Welfare Department will enhance the services of the Integrated Community Mental Health Centers to strengthen early identification and intervention for individuals with mental health needs.
I believe these measures will contribute to improving patients’ treatment outcomes and quality of life while reducing the negative impact of mental health issues on individuals, families and society. However, these measures also require support and participation from all sectors of society to raise broader awareness and support for mental health and to promote understanding and acceptance of mental health in society.
The author is Director of Psychology & Counselling Affairs of Chinese Dream Think Tank, vice-president of the Hong Kong Psychological Consultancy & Counseling Association, an International Certified Hypnotherapist instructor, and a senior Chinese psychological counselor and course instructor.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.
【CDTT Newspaper Article】Ztephen Law：Both society and family have an impact on a person’s mental health (China Daily HK Edition, 14 June 2023)
This article is reproduced by Kwun Media with the consent of China Daily.
Chinese Dream Think Tank is a non-profit Hong Kong-based organization working with skilled volunteers, experts and professionals who are passionate about telling the China story well.
特區政府一直致力推行多項措施推動社會精神健康教育。舉例說明，2020年推出「我們對話嗎」(Shall We Talk)計劃。通過這些全面性的努力，政府向公眾傳播著有關心理健康的積極資訊，加強大伙們對心理健康的理解，並鼓勵有困難的個人及早尋求幫助與治療。目的是減少對精神疾病患者的誤解與歧視。此外，以特首李生為首的特區政府更致力於加強工作場所的心理健康支援。例如，《工作場所精神健康憲章》(Mental Health Charter for the Workplace)的實施旨在建立一個心理健康與富有支援性的工作環境。截至3月，全港已有近1,200個機構簽署了該約章。大家拇指竪起來。