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LCQ7: Mental health services

     Following is a question by the Hon Lau Kong-wah and a written reply by the Secretary for Food and Health, Dr York Chow, in the Legislative Council today (March 28):


     A recent survey has revealed that quite a number of elderly people have depression problem, and nearly 30% of the elderly people are not satisfied with their own physical conditions, while nearly 40% of them would rather stay at home instead of going out to do something new. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) whether the Government has compiled statistics on the current number of elderly people in Hong Kong who have symptoms of depression among those who are aged over 60; among these elderly people, of the number of those who have sought medical help for depression;

(b) whether the authorities will step up their efforts in helping elderly people suffering from depression to receive treatment and counselling, and whether they have plans to step up their efforts in helping and encouraging elderly people to participate in more community activities so as to increase contacts with their neighbours and live a healthy and pleasant life in their twilight years; and

(c) given that Hong Kong will face the problem of an ageing population, whether the Government has assessed if the problem of depression among the elderly people shows a deteriorating trend and its impact on society?



     The Government is concerned about the needs of all psychiatric patients, including elders suffering from depression. We are committed to promoting mental health among members of the public. As the mental health policy and provision of related service programmes involve a number of policy bureaux and government departments, the Food and Health Bureau assumes the overall responsibility of co-ordination and works in close collaboration with the Labour and Welfare Bureau (LWB), Department of Health (DH), Hospital Authority (HA), Social Welfare Department (SWD) and other relevant government departments. Like other mental diseases, there are both mild and severe cases of depression.  Mild cases are usually treated by family physicians in the primary care settings, while more serious cases would be referred to Specialist Outpatient Clinics of HA or other specialists in psychiatry for follow up.

(a) According to a research report published by the University of Hong Kong in 2005, 12.5% of elders aged 60 or above living in the community suffered from depression, with the prevalence rate being 13.7% for females and 8.9% for males.

     As for elders living in Residential Care Homes for Elderly (RCHEs), according to a survey conducted by the Census and Statistics Department in 2008, around 7.5% of elders living in RCHEs aged 60 or above suffered from depression. Based on the number of elders at RCHEs aged 60 or above which stood at about 58 300 in mid-2008, it is projected that some 4 300 elders suffered from depression.

     In the past three years, that is 2008/09, 2009/10 and 2010/11, the numbers of elders aged 60 or above who were diagnosed to be suffering from depression of various degrees and receiving treatment in the psychiatric departments of the public hospitals under HA are about 11 130, 12 100 and 13 160 respectively.

(b) On healthcare services, the Geriatric or Psychogeriatrics units of HA hospitals are committed to providing diagnostic and treatment services for elders in need. HA has stepped up its efforts in the prevention and early diagnosis of mental illnesses. Since 2003-04, HA has introduced an Elderly Suicide Prevention Programme in all hospital clusters for elders who have symptoms of depression and suicidal tendency. The objective of the Programme is to provide early diagnosis and examination for elders who are living in the community and have symptoms of depression and suicidal tendency and refer those with suicidal tendency to fast-track clinics providing prompt intervention by psychogeriatrians as early as possible.

     Besides, in light of an international trend to gradually focus on community and ambulatory services in the treatment of mental illness, HA has provided medical consultations for elders living at RCHEs on a regular basis through its psychogeriatric outreach service and community geriatric assessment service, to facilitate early diagnosis and treatment of elders suffering from depression. In recent years, HA has also enhanced mental health services in the primary care settings by launching an Integrated Mental Health Programme at designated General Outpatient Clinics, in an effort to provide timely diagnosis and treatment through multi-disciplinary collaboration for patients with mild mood disorders and other common mental disorders who are living in the community and are in stable condition, including elders with symptoms of depression. Elder person in the community found with emotional problems can be referred to HA's Geriatric or Psychogeriatric units for further assessment and follow-up treatment.

     On public education, HA provides patients and their relatives with information on depression and related community resources via the one-stop website, "Smart Patient Website". The Elderly Health Service under DH has been making use of various channels, including television and radio interviews, newsletters, information hotlines and websites, and production of various kinds of health educational materials such as leaflets and Video Compact Discs, to promote positive psychology and disseminate information on elderly depression to the public.

     The Government's elderly policy encourages elders' active participation in community life. LWB and the Elderly Commission have in recent years collaboratively organised a variety of projects and activities to disseminate this message. Examples include the Neighbourhood Active Ageing Project, the Elder Academy Scheme, the production of radio programmes, etc. The Government has also been pressing ahead to launch the Public Transport Concessions Scheme for the Elderly and Persons with Disabilities as soon as possible in the second half of this year to further encourage the elders and persons with disabilities to participate in more community activities, thereby enriching the social capital and developing a spirit of care and inclusiveness.

     Other government departments also have relevant initiatives in place. For example, SWD subsidises the Opportunities for the Elderly Project each year; elderly centres under SWD also organise educational, social and recreational activities for elders from time to time. Additional resources have been allocated to these centres to reach hidden and singleton elders, thereby helping them strengthen their ties with the community.

(c) According to a research report published by the University of Hong Kong in 2005, depression among the elders could be induced by a number of risk factors including self-perceived financial hardship, insufficient social support, poor self-care ability in daily life, self-perceived poor health status, suffering from chronic pain, visual abnormalities etc. With an ageing population, we anticipate that the number of elders suffering from depression will continue to rise. In order to cater for the rising service demand, we will continue our efforts to enhance the above-mentioned healthcare and social welfare services that are currently available, as well as strengthening the collaboration between the healthcare and social welfare sectors, with a view to providing more appropriate and comprehensive support to the elders, including those suffering from depression.

Ends/Wednesday, March 28, 2012
Issued at HKT 16:14


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