The proportion of the population suffering from post-traumatic stress and depression has increased considerably since the start of the demonstrations, according to a study published in The Lancet.
The mental health of the people of Hong Kong has been strongly affected by the pro-democracy mobilization and the resulting tensions. A University of Hong Kong study, the largest ever conducted on the impact of social disorders on mental health, according to its authors, shows an increase in the proportion of the population suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression since the beginning of the movement.
Published in the prestigious British journal The Lancet, the study shows a prevalence of PTSD symptoms observed in the population six times higher than that of the previous large-scale social movement, the less violent “Umbrella Movement” of 2014.
Almost one-third of adults in Hong Kong have shown signs of PTSD since the beginning of the pro-democracy mobilization in June. By March 2015, five percent of adults had symptoms of PTSD, compared to nearly 32 percent between September and November 2019.
An impact that can be underestimated
Eleven percent of the adult population presented symptoms of probable depression a proportion comparable to that observed during armed conflicts or after terrorist attacks, according to the study. The researchers also found that intensive use of social networks to follow up on political news seemed to contribute to the risk of depression or PTSD.
The study also looked at the public health consequences. “Hong Kong does not have the resources to deal with this increase in psychological problems,” said Professor Gabriel Leung, dean of the University of Hong Kong Medical School, who co-directed the study. And again, according to the study, the impact is likely to be underestimated due to the absence of under-18s in the sample.
The sample consists of 18,000 people who were interviewed several times between 2009 and 2019. This would be the largest and longest study ever conducted in the world on the impact of social disruption on residents’ mental health.
Since June, Hong Kong has gone through its worst political crisis since its surrender in 1997, with very regular demonstrations, often degenerating into violence, calling for democratic reforms or denouncing China’s interference in the affairs of its semi-autonomous region.
“At a time when social discontent is increasing around the world, particularly in large cities such as Barcelona, Delhi, Paris and Santiago in 2019, the issue of the impact of social discontent on people’s mental health has become a major public health problem,” said the study’s other co-director, Michael Ni of the University of Hong Kong.