Staying Mentally Healthy In Unstable Times

The Protests & Your Mental Health

Written by Steve Imrie

Research teams, psychologists, and doctors have all recently stated that, due to the summer protests, Hong Kongers are currently suffering from a “mental health epidemic”. Statistically 9.1% of Hong Kongers are currently considered to have depression.*

There is no medicine to cure this epidemic, so please read through the ideas below to take care of your mental health during this worrying time.

The Cost of Protesting

The protests have taken a heavy psychological toll on the protesters, the police, and those watching from home. This psychological toll has led to more serious disorders such as stress, anxiety, and depression.

Never has the population felt so unsettled and troubled with the idea that nothing is in their or the governments control. People are upsetting themselves, worrying about the safety of themselves and their loved ones, their homes and their work. The stress of this worry, along with the constant barrage of information about the protests has resulted in an outbreak in public mental health issues.

Over the summer three deaths and two suicide attempts have heightened the stressful situation in the city. The feelings of hopelessness, along with a snowballing of negative emotions has families and the city worried about copycat suicide behaviour among young people.

Social media and news reports can be very difficult to process and removing yourselves from the political turmoil is now almost impossible. It can be very difficult for everyone to cope with all of the negativity, especially if people are already very low mentally.

Photo by Warren Wong

Suicide Is Not The Answer

Yes, Hong Kong is in pain right now. Some believe that the only way out of this pain is to take their own lives. Is suicide the right answer? No.

No matter how much pain is being experienced, you must remember that you are not alone. Some of the world’s finest and most talented people have been in your position. Many have thought about taking their own lives when overwhelmed with depression and a sense of hopelessness. But remember there is always someone there to help you, and someone who needs you. Hong Kong needs you.

Facing your own pain, your fears and taking a step back from the edge is a powerful and courageous thing to do. That strength can be used to fight your depression, to cope with the pain and to help you and others to keep going. Life is always worth living and fighting for.

Remember:
•  Emotions are not fixed. Situations and the way you feel about them today might not be how you will feel about them tomorrow.
•  Your absence will create grief and despair in the lives of your friends and loved ones.
•  There are sights, sounds, and experiences in life that have the ability to delight and lift you up.

Feeling Hopeless?

If you feel that your pain and suffering is causing you to think of suicide or other depressive thoughts, take these immediate actions:

1. Promise not to do anything right now. Give yourself distance between what you are experiencing, from your negative thoughts about the protests, and from taking a negative action. These thoughts do not need to become a reality.

2. Avoid drugs and alcohol as they can increase depressive and suicidal thoughts.

3. Make yourself safe by removing things that can hurt you, turn off your social media feed and go somewhere you feel welcomed and where protests aren’t being discussed.

4. Don’t keep your feelings bottled up. Inform people about how you feel. Go to your doctor, your family, your friends, a mental health practitioner, the church, a teacher, a coach, or counsellor, or the helpline of the Samaritans. Let them know how the pressure and stress in Hong Kong is making you feel. Do not feel embarrassed about finding help. People will understand.

5. Take hope in the fact that others are feeling the same. They can get through it and so can you.

Photo by Dan Meyers

Ways To Cope

Depression and other mental health conditions are all treatable through changes in lifestyle, therapy, and sometimes medication. When you seek out help, you can see improvements in the situation and people can have a more positive outlook on life. It may be necessary to try different approaches before finding the right solution, so remember that these suggestions are not quick fixes. Recovering from stress and depression can take time.

1. Pause & Talk
There are lots of people who you can talk to, especially if you are embarrassed about talking to your family or friends. You can speak to your HR department, a social worker, your college health department, search out and join some group therapy or find a psychologist, coach or mental health professional.

If you are worried about your loved one, talking and listening to those suffering with suicidal tendencies, asking them to share their thoughts and feelings is one of the best things that can be done.

2. Self-Care
This buzzword is very popular at the moment and it should be taken seriously. Giving yourself the care and time that is required to be fully happy and relaxed is crucial. Unfortunately many people brush off “self-care” to run around, being busy and getting themselves stressed and depressed.

Take some time to do the following; take a meditation or yoga class, get out of the city for a little while, perhaps out into nature, get enough sleep and rest, listen to sad music to release some tears and pressure and then uplifting music to boost your good mood.

3. Get Off Social Media
This is vital to those people facing depression about the protests. Remember that you don’t need to be glued to the screen reading and rereading the articles and videos describing the negative situation. This addiction to social media will only fuel the negativity you are feeling, worsening it to the point where you can’t cope.

Take daily breaks from your social media. Use the time more productively to do some exercise, get out in the sunlight, meet your friends, laugh, listen to music. Do anything, other than engaging online, to increase your serotonin levels as they will make you feel relaxed and happy.

Photo by Arif Riyanto

Concerned About A Loved One

If you are reading this and you are concerned about a loved one’s mental health, look out for some of the following signs that might indicate self harm or suicide. If you feel that these are happening, contact one of the helplines below.

Someone is…
•  Feeling trapped or hopeless about the situation
•  In emotional pain
•  Focusing on the negative more than usual
•  Mentioning that people would be better off without them
•  Using drugs or alcohol more frequently
•  Dealing with increased nerves, anxiety or sadness
•  Withdrawing from those around them
•  Showing extreme anger or rage
•  Saying goodbye to those around them or
•  Making a will or putting affairs in order

Please note, this is not an exhaustive list. Any, all or none of these might be a symptom of depression and potential suicide. The best thing to do is to check in with your friends and family frequently to see how they are, really listen and offer a helping hand if they are in need.

The Protest, Like Your Pain, Can Be Temporary

When we are stuck in depression, when the world around us looks lost,  it can seem as if the pain and unhappiness will never end. However it is important to know that these crises are usually temporary. Situations can and will change, solutions can be found, things can and will get better. We all must, even with our differing political views, listen to each other, help each other and remember that we all love this city and call it home. Suicide is a permanent choice to a temporary problem. Give yourself, each other, the city, the time for things to change and for pain to subside.

Blue skies ahead.

Useful Associations & Links

•  Open Up – online counselling service (youth) – www.openup.hk (Multilingual)
•  The Samaritans – Suicide Prevention Hotline – 2382 0000 (Multilingual)
•  Samaritan Befrienders – Emotional Support Hotline – 2389 2222 (Cantonese)
•  Suicide Prevention (Youth) – 2382 0777 (Cantonese)
•  Youth Outreach – 9088 1023 (Cantonese)

*Survey conducted by the School of Public Health of the Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine at the University of Hong Kong (HKU).

Written by Steve Imrie
Your Life, Your Coach.
Life, Happiness, Goal Coach. 

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