Almost half of those aged between 40 and 59 who are recovering from mental health problems are unemployed, while this same group also lives in greater poverty as compared to people with disabilities, a study conducted by The Hong Kong Council of Social Service (HKCSS) has shown. This has prompted the organisation to urge the government to do more for people who have recovered from mental illness.

As of 2015, approximately half – numbering around 12,000 –  formerly mentally ill people in the 24 Integrated Community Centres for Mental Wellness across Hong Kong are between 40 to 59 years old, indicating an ageing trend. The survey interviewed 488 of them and the results were released on Thursday.

mental illness sufferer
A former mental illness sufferer.

The study revealed that 48 percent of the interviewees were unemployed, while 25 percent had low-skilled jobs. It also found that the poverty level of the interviewees was generally worse compared to the overall situation of those with disabilities; around 40 percent were on social welfare. Around 70 percent said that there were few job opportunities, and the situation worsened the older they were; many hoped that they could receive more assistance in the area, such as skills training.

Kuo Chun-chuen, Chief Officer of Rehab at HKCSS, said that the reason former sufferers from mental illness have a higher unemployment rate than others with disabilities was because many employers and employees harbour misunderstandings about them.

A whopping 89.7 percent said that they believe having contact with people without mental illnesses would help their recovery, but 40 percent said that they remain isolated from society and had few opportunities to do so. Around 43 percent said that they received little support from society.

Another finding was that while most interviewees have the ability to take care of themselves, they often lacked motivation and energy. Around 52 percent tend to stay at home a lot of the time and 45 percent rarely feel joy in planning for the future.

In light of the findings, the HKCSS has suggested that the government enhance the employment support they offer to formerly mentally ill people, strengthen the support system provided by the community, do more to help them integrate into society, and improve the medical facilities available.

Karen is a journalist and writer covering politics and legal affairs in Hong Kong for HKFP. She has also written features on human rights, public space, regional legal developments, social and grassroots activism, and arts & culture. She is a BA and LLB graduate from the University of Hong Kong.