LCQ 20: Eliminating public's discrimination against ex-mentally ill persons

     Following is a question by the Hon Emily Lau Wai-hing and a written reply by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, in the Legislative Council today (June 15):


     A number of ex-mentally ill persons have relayed to me that they are discriminated and alienated in employment and community life, which seriously hamper their rehabilitation and integration into the community. In this connection, will the Executive Authorities inform this Council:

(a) whether they know the unemployment rate of ex-mentally ill persons at present and if it is higher than the overall unemployment rate; if they do, of the details; if not, whether they will conduct surveys and studies on ex-mentally ill persons' unemployment rate, causes of their unemployment and the support they need;

(b) whether they know the number of complaints received by the Equal Opportunities Commission ("EOC") which were lodged by mentally ill and ex-mentally ill persons under the Disability Discrimination Ordinance (Cap. 487) last year, as well as the major areas involved; given that EOC previously studied cases of discrimination against mentally ill persons and put forward a number of recommendations, which recommendations put forward by EOC in the past have not been accepted and implemented, and whether EOC has any plan to take follow-up actions in this regard; and

(c) of the expenditure of various government departments and public bodies on eliminating the public's discrimination against ex-mentally ill persons last year; since Members of this Council and deputations pointed out several times at the meetings of committees of this Council that the Government's efforts in public education to promote the public's acceptance of mentally ill persons were not enough, what new improvement initiatives the authorities will take; whether they will follow the examples of England and Australia and introduce programmes to encourage responsible and accurate depiction of mental illness and mentally ill persons in the media; as England has set up a Social Exclusion Unit under the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister to address the problem of social exclusion against mentally ill persons, whether the Government will follow suit and put in place a high-level mechanism of similar nature?



     The Government has been striving to provide equal opportunities for persons with disabilities (including ex-mentally ill persons) in order to facilitate their integration into society. As regards the legal framework, the Disability Discrimination Ordinance (Cap. 487) (DDO) affords protection against discrimination on the ground of one's disability. The Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC), as the statutory enforcement agency of DDO, will ensure that the rights of persons with disabilities are safeguarded. Furthermore, the Mental Health Ordinance (Cap.136) also safeguards the rights of mental patients. On the public education front, the Government strives to enhance public awareness on mental health and eliminate discrimination, thereby promoting public acceptance of persons with mental illness and assisting persons recovering from mental illness to re-integrate into society. My reply to the Hon Emily Lau's question is as follows:

(a) To facilitate formulation of policies and planning for services for persons with disabilities by the respective government bureaux and departments and service agencies, the Census and Statistics Department conducts a territory-wide "Survey on Persons with Disabilities and Chronic Diseases" (the survey) periodically. The latest round of the survey was conducted in 2006-07. According to the results of the survey, the unemployment rate of persons with mental illness/mood disorder(Note) was 14%. The overall unemployment rate for the Hong Kong population in 2007 was 4%. Relevant government departments, such as the Labour Department and Social Welfare Department (SWD), will make reference to the relevant data of the survey in providing suitable employment support for ex-mentally ill persons.

(b) The number and area of the complaints lodged by mentally ill and ex-mentally ill persons under DDO received by EOC in 2010 are set out at Annex.

     In 2002, EOC commissioned an in-depth study of mental health service users' perception and experience of discrimination in Hong Kong. The study concluded that the effectiveness of mental health care service would hinge on a number of factors including public acceptance, effectiveness of the service, supply of effective drugs, provision of support and legal service, provision of occupational and rehabilitation service, etc. The study made a number of recommendations. These included providing support to the family of persons with mental illness, providing medical care in an evidence-based and client-oriented approach, and wider use of new psychiatric drugs for persons with mental illness. The study also recommended the Government to set up a "Mental Health Council", which would co-ordinate all the policies, activities, researches and public education initiatives in mental health services, and protect the rights of persons with mental illness.

     The Government accepted a number of recommendations from the study and has been continuously enhancing the medical and community support services for mentally ill persons, ex-mentally ill persons and their families along the same direction. Regarding the recommendation to set up a "Mental Health Council", at present, the Food and Health Bureau (FHB) assumes the responsibility for coordinating policies and programmes on mental health.  It works closely with the Labour and Welfare Bureau (LWB) and coordinates the work of various government departments and agencies including the Hospital Authority (HA), Department of Health (DH) and SWD in the implementation of relevant measures. We seek to provide medical and rehabilitation services to patients with mental health problems through a multi-disciplinary and cross-sectoral team approach. We also have in place a cross-sectoral mechanism - the "Working Group on Mental Health Services" which keeps mental health services under review on a continuous basis. Chaired by the Secretary for Food and Health, the Working Group comprises academics, professionals and service providers. FHB will continue to strengthen its coordinating role on matters relating to mental health and work closely with various departments and agencies in formulating appropriate policies and measures.

(c) The Government is committed to promoting mental health through public education and publicity with a view to enhancing public awareness and understanding of mental health and public acceptance of mental patients, thereby facilitating their re-integration into the community.

     In 2010-11, the expenditure incurred by LWB for public education activities in promoting mental health and enhancing public acceptance of mental patients was around $3.2 million. LWB, in collaboration with more than 20 government departments, public organisations, non-governmental organisations and the media, has been organising annually the "Mental Health Month" since 1995. During the "Mental Health Month", territory-wide and district-based publicity campaigns, including co-operation with the media to report on mental illness and mental patients in a positive manner, television and radio programmes, Announcements in the Public Interest, newspaper supplements, publicity programmes targeting residents in the community etc. are launched to enhance the general awareness of mental health and community support for persons recovering from mental illness. In 2011-12, we will continue to organise the Mental Health Month as an on-going public education initiative. In tandem, to reinforce efforts in promoting the spirit and core values enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, LWB will continue to substantially increase the allocation for public education activities from around $2 million annually to $12.5 million in 2011-12. Themes of these public education activities include promotion of mental health and full integration of persons recovering from mental illness into the community.

     Furthermore, in 2010-11, SWD allocated a total of $135 million to set up Integrated Community Centre for Mental Wellness (ICCMW) across the territory to provide one-stop and district-based support services ranging from prevention to crisis management to discharged mental patients, persons with suspected mental health problems, their families and carers and residents living in the community. These services include public education and publicity programmes to enhance community understanding of mental health and to eliminate discrimination of the public against ex-mentally ill persons. As at March 31, 2011, the ICCMWs had organised a total of 1,075 public education and publicity activities/programmes to enhance public awareness of mental health, and the number of participants totalled about 79,000.

     HA has also been promoting the importance of mental health through its provision of psychiatric services. For example, through its child and adolescent health service, the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Community Support Project and the Early Assessment Service for Young People with Psychosis, HA has been inculcating minors and their parents with an awareness of mental health. Meanwhile, DH has produced a variety of health education materials to promote mental health. It also disseminates mental health information covering emotional management, stress management and development of self-image through its 24-hour health education hotline and web site, so as to promote the mental health in social life.
     Regarding the proposal of setting up a "Social Exclusion Unit", as mentioned above, the Government will continue to enhance public education for the development of an inclusive society and to eliminate discrimination. Meanwhile, EOC, being the statutory enforcement agency of DDO, will continue to ensure that the rights of persons with disabilities are protected and enhance public education to promote the equal opportunities of persons with disabilities.

Note: According to the definition adopted by the survey, "Persons with mental illness/mood disorder" were defined as those who had been diagnosed as having mental illness/mood disorder under medical assessment tests (including ex-mentally ill persons) or had been/were being treated by psychiatrists or had received/were receiving some form of rehabilitation services provided for ex-mentally ill persons (such as psychiatric clinics, private psychiatrists, halfway houses and community psychiatric nursing services) at the time of enumeration. Separate figures for ex-mentally ill persons are not available in the survey.

Ends/Wednesday, June 15, 2011
Issued at HKT 12:43