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Speech by SHW (English only)


Following is a speech by the Secretary for Health and Welfare, Dr E K Yeoh, when attending the Launch of the Jardine Matheson Group Philanthropy Activity today (June 21):

Mr Weatherall, Mr Chan, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am delighted to be here today to join you in celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Jardine Ambassadors Scheme. I am particularly delighted to witness the launch of the Jardine Matheson Group's new philanthropy strategy - MINDSET which involves focusing the Group's resources on supporting the area of mental health. I understand that under this new strategy, the Jardine Ambassadors will come together and help address the mental illness issue in the community with a three pronged approach namely - education, re-integration and fund-raising.

This initiative is most timely and I am particularly pleased to see that it emanates from the private sector. I shall now briefly elaborate why.

To put things into perspective, let me first of all share with you some alarming statistics about mental health, that were released by the World Health Organization (WHO) in April this year. Currently 450 million people suffer from some form of mental or brain disorder, including alcohol and substance abuse disorders. One in four families has at least one member who is affected. Projections from 1990 to 2020 suggest that the portion of the global burden of disease attributable to mental and brain disorders will rise to 15%. Depression, schizophrenia, Alzheimer's and other dementias are all found among the 13 leading causes of years lived with disability.

According to WHO, currently 121 million people suffer from depression and the burden of depressive illness is rising. Twice as many women suffer from depression as men. Depression is also increasingly afflicting young people. Closely linked to depression are the serious and growing troubles of dependence on alcohol and other substances and suicide. In this connection, young people are most at risk accounting for well over half of all suicides.

The cost of mental disorders in any economy are staggering. Sufferers and their families or carers often experience reduced productivity at home and in the workplace. High health care costs and lost productivity can seriously affect families. In the United States, the annual cost of mental illnesses consumes about 2.5% of gross national product or US$148 billion. In the United Kingdom, aggregate costs of mental illness have been estimated to reach 32 billion pounds sterling. Reduced ability to work and associated productivity losses account for about 45% of these costs. And of course, it is not just the economic cost - there is also a significant social cost to be factored in.

Although we do not have similar statistics for Hong Kong, our mental health problems are significant. For example, the number of hospitalization cases for mental disorders in Hospital Authority hospitals has doubled from about 16,000 in 1998 to over 33,000 in 2000. Suicide accounts for slightly over 1,000 deaths every year.

So, how should we address these mental health problems? My view is that we need to tackle these problems, at source, in-depth and involve all sectors of the community. It is imperative that an inter-sectoral approach is taken in providing preventive, remedial and supportive services. That is why I am so pleased to learn of your launch of the MINDSET strategy at this point in time.

Having set the scene, I hope you will allow me a few minutes to briefly outline what we in the Government, are doing to address the mental health issue. In line with WHO's recommendation, we have extended our community-based services for the mentally ill and particularly, those discharged from hospital. Our prime objective is to provide a continuum of care as far as possible, in the community.

Fully recognizing the effect of early detection and treatment, the Hospital Authority has, in collaboration with primary care providers, education and welfare agencies, piloted a programme for the early detection and treatment of young people with a psychotic illness. Through this programme, we aim at stimulating the community's awareness of mental health problems in young persons and promoting greater awareness of the need for early treatment in people with mental illness. It has been the experience that on the average patients do not access treatment from a psychiatrist for 2 years from the onset of symptoms. Apart from taking measures to rationalize the provision of beds in psychiatric hospitals, the Hospital Authority has also enhanced the provision of its community based psychiatric services so as to facilitate early identification of relapsed patients and provide additional support to them and their families.

In addition, a pilot project known as the EXITERS will be implemented, to divert a group of extended care patients to home-like facilities for intensive treatment and rehabilitation. Through such arrangements, we will make it possible for their gradual return to living in the community. To complement these services, the Social Welfare Department has launched a project called 'Community Mental Health Link' which provides counselling and outreach visits to discharged mental patients, and arranges social, recreational and educational programmes to provide additional care and support to them and their families.

All the above-mentioned new measures and initiatives are part of our plan to focus development of care and services related to mental health on the community based approach. We believe that with the advance in technology, the episodic relapses of most patients with severe mental illness can nowadays be controlled by medications. Treatment can be in the form of outpatient or day-patient care, instead of hospitalization. Given adequate family support and enhanced community care and assistance, most of the mentally ills can integrate into the community and lead an independent life. But the key factor for determining their successful re-integration into the community is public acceptance. Very often, due to misunderstanding, people tend to associate mentally illed persons with trouble-makers or violence and hence are reluctant to accept them both socially and at work. Whilst the Government will continue to launch public education programmes to raise public understanding of mental health, we believe that this is the area in which both the non-government and private sectors can contribute.

Private sector, in particular employers, has an important role to play to alleviate the problem of mental health. Hong Kong is renowned for its high work efficiency and fast pace of life. On top of that, under the prevailing economic situation, employees are put under immense work pressure. For healthy and sustainable development of our human-ware, employers should endeavour to build a work environment which is conducive to promoting the mental health of their employees. They should also render necessary support and assistance to the employees who encounter stress or mental health problems.

It is very clear that the community must act together to address the mental health issue. We greatly value close collaboration with both the non-profit and for-profit sectors.

You may recall that the Chief Executive highlighted in his 2000 Policy Address, our commitment to fostering a vibrant Third Sector. Our efforts in promoting economic growth, maintaining healthy legal systems as well as political stability, have made for a favourable environment which facilitates the development of our Third Sector. The Government also supports the sector financially through subventing education, health and welfare services.

And in this connection, the Chief Executive announced in the 2001 Policy Address, a plan to set up a Community Investment and Inclusion Fund. The Fund will provide an additional boost to our efforts to promote and encourage community participation and social inclusion. Our objective is to bring the community closer together by encouraging mutual concern, support and assistance, as well as by strengthening the social network throughout the community. This will help strengthen our community's role in supporting individuals and families, and will ultimately foster social cohesion and a sense of belonging within the community. We also intend to use the Fund as a vehicle to encourage and facilitate cross-sectoral cooperation between the private and non-governmental sectors. We envisage that the Fund will serve as an incentive to tap into the potential social capital available in Hong Kong. You may be interested to learn that we are seeking partners to help us launch the fund, not necessarily to co-fund projects. Perhaps, more importantly, we are seeking partners such as yourselves who could help in nurturing and mentoring projects by community groups. In fact, your MINDSET project neatly complements what we are trying to achieve with the Fund.

The relation and interaction between the public sector and the non-profit sector has proven over time to be constructive and mutually-beneficial. The non-governmental agencies, large or small, not only provide valuable assistance to the community in addressing needs and tackling social problems but also help us plan ahead. Many new policies and initiatives have benefited from their successful pilot projects which have the ability to take advantage of their sensitivity to underlying social trends.

Equally, you in the private sector also have an important role to play in the development of a civil society. In the past, businesses' participation in and contribution to voluntary work has, to an extent, been perceived as going against their basic market-driven and profit-maximizing nature. However, in the past decade, corporate citizenship has been firmly put on the social agenda, and more and more companies now recognize their social, cultural and environmental responsibilities to the community. Corporate social responsibility is not incompatible with profit-maximization. This is not a question of charity, nor is it a public relations exercise. It should be viewed as an element of intelligent self-interest which also brings benefits to society. Research has found that by exercising these responsibilities, corporations generally achieve improved financial performance, reduced operating costs, enhanced brand image and reputation, and increased sales and customer loyalty.

Hence, it is important that the three sectors come together to address the difficulties experienced by those who do not succeed in the market economy. Whilst Government provides a basic safety net, the Third Sector and the private sector can also play their part in helping to improve the quality of life and the degree of participation in the community, by vulnerable or marginalized individuals.

Developing such a culture within a corporation will benefit both shareholders and employees and the resulting goodwill from both groups can only add to your bottom-line. Your Group's Ambassadors Programme is an excellent case in point. I understand that over 190,000 people in Hong Kong have benefited from the Programme so far. I wish to congratulate the Group on its excellent work in promoting volunteerism, and its contribution to helping the more vulnerable members of our community.

I am confident that if other corporations follow your example, the stock of social capital in our community will grow substantially and for the benefit of all.

In closing, let me take this opportunity to wish the Group every success with the MINDSET project.

Thank you very much.

End/Friday, June 21, 2002


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