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Speech by SHW (English only)

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Following is a speech by the Secretary for Health and Welfare, Dr E K Yeoh, at the Seminar on Overcoming the Challenges of Job Stress & Its Impact in the Workplace today (January 31):

Dr Wu, Guest Speakers, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am delighted to be here today to officiate at the opening of this Regional Seminar on Overcoming the Challenges of Job Stress & Its Impact in the Workplace.

First of all, let me extend our warmest welcome to the guest speakers who have come from different overseas countries to share with us their knowledge and experience in mental health issues in the workplace. We are also grateful to all participants for finding time in your busy schedules to attend the Seminar. The excellent turn-out in this room is a clear indication that employers and managers in Hong Kong are concerned and do care about the mental health of their employees.

When I spoke at the opening ceremony of the Mental Health Month in October last year, I referred to the World Health Organization's estimate that currently about 400 million people suffer from neurological disorders. To further illustrate the seriousness of the problem, I should like to share with you some telling statistics. Based on epidemiological studies on the general population conducted in USA, UK, Germany and Australia in the past twenty years, between 100 to 250 per 1 000 adults have a psychological disorder in any one year. Most are related to depression and anxiety, and only one to three per cent is psychosis of some kind mostly, schizophrenia and affective psychosis.

What is even more worrying to us is the huge loss in productivity due to employees' mental health problems. According to surveys conducted by the Confederation of British Industries and the Department of Health, UK, 30 per cent of sick leave in UK is related to stress, anxiety or depression. The financial costs to employers there are thought to be in the region of óG3.7 billion or HK$40.7 billion per year. Unfortunately, we do not have comparable statistics on employees' sick leave in Hong Kong. But one can easily visualize the significant cost implications given the fact that Hong Kong is renowned for its fast pace of life and highly competitive working environment.

Indeed, a survey on healthy living conducted in Hong Kong in 1999 revealed that nearly 40 per cent of respondents reported that their career or job was a source of pressure. The top four most stressful occupations were managers/administrators, associate professionals, professionals and clerks.

In another survey, jointly carried out by a hospital and an educational institution in Hong Kong, the prime sources of stress in the workplace as perceived by employees, in descending order of importance, were -

(a) Heavy workload

(b) Worries about redundancy and pay cut

(c) Interpersonal relationships in the workplace

(d) Long working hours

(e) Work Complexity

How are we going to tackle these problems? Today, we are very fortunate and privileged to have some outstanding academics and experts to share with us their knowledge and experience on the subject. I will therefore defer to them on how to deal with stress at work. I am sure in both today's and tomorrow's sessions, the distinguished speakers will shed some useful light on the subject and provide us all with valuable advice on how the problem can be handled particularly, at the micro level.

At the macro level, I can assure the audience that the Government will continue to play a leading role in facilitating and co-ordinating an intersectoral approach to promoting mental health in the workplace. We will continue to put in resources to run public education programmes on mental health. The Hospital Authority, various government bodies including the Department of Health, Education Department and Labour Department, will continue to work with NGOs and the business sector to further promote mental health in the work environment. In fact, in the coming financial year, we will set aside over $3.5 million for publicity work on rehabilitation issues, including the promotion of mental health. Our strategy is to raise public awareness of the problem and involve the public at all levels to develop preventive and remedial measures. Of course, we should not overlook the importance of international collaboration. And as such, we will continue to foster relationships with counterparts in overseas countries to achieve the common goal of promoting mental health for all.

Lastly, but most importantly, I should like to take this opportunity to thank the New Life Psychiatric Rehabilitation Association, the International Labour Office and the World Federation for Mental Health for co-organising this very meaningful event. We are particularly, in debt to those who have been involved in the implementation of this international collaboration project. Without their dedication and hard work, we would not be able to meet here today and to exchange views.

For those who are visiting Hong Kong, I hope that you will all have a pleasant and enjoyable stay here.

Thank you and I wish you well in the coming Year of the Horse.

End/Thursday, January 31, 2002

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