Nearly 10 per cent of primary school students demonstrate symptoms of serious depression that require clinical attention, a new study has shown.

Baptist Oi Kwan Social Service distributed questionnaires among 1,301 primary three to primary six students across 14 schools between January and March this year. The NGO estimated that over 33,000 of the 349,000 primary school students in the city suffer from clinical depression and require therapy and treatment.

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Clinical psychologist Ester Lee. Photo: RTHK screenshot.

Over a fifth of students said that they often experience stress from their heavy homework load, academic performance and preparation for secondary school.

“Children may not use the same methods as adults in expressing their inner thoughts – so we would look at more extrinsic factors, such as those relating to the physical body. For example, their sleep may be affected: they may sleep too much or experience insomnia, or they may have poor sleeping quality and have a lot of nightmares,” said clinical psychologist Ester Lee Ming-lam a press conference on Sunday.

Lee added that some children may also suffer from stomachaches, diarrhea or other health problems.

See also: HKFP’s comprehensive guide to mental health services in Hong Kong

Other behaviours to watch out for include instances of the student’s academic results taking a turn for the worse; if they refuse to hand in homework; or when they show reluctance in going to school, Lee said.

The study also found that a lack of psychological resilience – meaning the ability to face pressure and handle emotions – was one of the biggest factors in childhood depression, and that these children tend to avoid things that trigger negative emotions and take to the extremity.

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Photo: GovHK.

The NGO recommends that parents talk to their children more and spend more time with them, as well as stay calm and take note of each other’s emotions when responding to them.

Social welfare sector lawmaker Shiu Ka-chun told Chief Executive Carrie Lam last month that there have been over 72 suicides among young people, from primary school students to postgraduate students, over the past two years.

If you are experiencing negative feelings, please call: The Samaritans 2896 0000 (24-hour, multilingual), Suicide Prevention Centre 2382 0000 or the Social Welfare Department 2343 2255. The Hong Kong Society of Counseling and Psychology provides a WhatsApp hotline in English and Chinese: 6218 1084.

Karen cheung hong kong

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.