Over half of the chronic patients amid COVID-19 suffered from depression and mental health problems, HKSR discovered


A mental health related research study conducted by the Hong Kong Society for Rehabilitation (HKSR), in collaboration with the department of Counselling and Psychology of the Hong Kong Shue Yan University (HKSYU), has discovered that people with chronic illnesses have shown symptoms of mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety, under the COVID-19 pandemic.

The study found that the psychological well-being among people with chronic illnesses was affected significantly by reduction in socialisation and social contact. Over 50% of the respondents have shown symptoms of mental health burden despite the subsidence of the pandemic in October. It was discovered that 31% and 43% of the respondents showed symptoms of depression and anxiety respectively.

Deterioration in Mental Health due to Reduction in Socialisation

The suspension and reduction of social activities and rehabilitation services under the pandemic has had a significant impact on the psychological well-being of people with chronic illnesses. The study discovered that over 40% of those polled have done less exercise or outdoor activities, and around 60% of whom have showed symptoms of mental health problems. Meanwhile, over 50% of the respondents have reduced social contact and socialisation, and 55% to 63% of the respondents within this group have shown symptoms of mental health issues. In additional, around half of those polled have attended less activities of self-help or mutual help patient groups, and 60% of them have shown symptoms of mental health issues.

Just like the general public, people with chronic illnesses receive pandemic-related information from different channels, but an abundance of information may not necessarily be beneficial. The study found that over 50% of the respondents expressed that such information has brought negative influences in their psychological well-being because of high frequency and inability to comprehend it. Within this group, over 60% of the respondents have shown symptoms of mental health issues.

Online Services are more effective

Dr Lau Hi-po Bobo, Assistant Professor at the Department of Counselling and Psychology Department of HKSYU, who jointly participated in this study, pointed out that the uncertainties and long-lasting, widespread impacts of the pandemic have led to a massive psychological burden. People with chronic illnesses have become exceedingly stressed due to their health conditions, a lack of social life and financial hardships. Nonetheless, the wisdom and positive attitude they gained from coping with their health conditions might actually help them stay healthy psychologically.

The pandemic has caused the delivery of social services to evolve from longer face-to-face sessions to shorter yet more frequent online sessions with the use of digital technologies. Previous research studies have discovered that the new service model would be more effective than the conventional offline mode for patients with mild to moderate depressive symptoms.

HKSR has stayed in touch with people with chronic illnesses via online seminars, courses and workshops under the pandemic. Apart from answering questions related to users’ own health, HKSR has also provided psychosocial support. This service has received positive feedback from service users.

“As people with chronic illnesses makes up around one-third of Hong Kong’s population, their psychological well-being remains an issue of concern,” said Dr Leung Pui-yu, Pamela, CEO of HKSR, “They are one of HKSR’s major target groups. In recent years, HKSR has promoted different services to cater for their need for psychosocial wellbeing, such as e2Care online platform, and online services launched under the pandemic. The provision of mixed-mode services will be the top priority for the future development of HKSR.”

The online survey polled 436 adults with chronic illnesses in Hong Kong from October to November 2020.