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Speech by SLW at Launch Ceremony of JC JoyAge: Jockey Club Holistic Support Project for Elderly Mental Wellness (English only)
     Following is the speech by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Stephen Sui, at the Launch Ceremony of JC JoyAge: Jockey Club Holistic Support Project for Elderly Mental Wellness today (March 23):

Professor Paul Tam (Acting President and Vice-Chancellor, the University of Hong Kong), Mr Leong Cheung (Executive Director, Charities and Community, the Hong Kong Jockey Club), Professor John Burns (Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences, the University of Hong Kong), Professor Zvi Gellis (University of Pennsylvania, US), Professor Terry Lum (Head of the Department of Social Work and Social Administration, the University of Hong Kong), our close partners in the welfare sector, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

     It gives me great pleasure to kick start Hong Kong's first workshop cum symposium focusing on the highly significant issue of elderly mental wellness.

     The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government is committed to building a caring and elderly-friendly society. We attach great importance to the well-being of our senior citizens including their mental, physical and social wellness.

     I am most delighted to see the Hong Kong Jockey Club organising this event and the Club's Charities Trust donating a generous $87.61 million to launch, together with different community partners, a three-year JC JoyAge: Jockey Club Holistic Support Project for Elderly Mental Wellness to promote mental wellness of the elderly and tackle the problem of elderly depression. My heartfelt appreciation goes to the Jockey Club Charities Trust, and its seven collaborating partners, the University of Hong Kong, New Life Psychiatric Rehabilitation Association, the Mental Health Association of Hong Kong, Christian Family Service Centre, Caritas Hong Kong, Haven of Hope Christian Service, and Hong Kong Sheng Kung Hui Lady MacLehose Centre.

     To promote a compassionate society and prepare Hong Kong for the challenges of a fast greying population, the Government puts elderly care amongst our top agenda items. Recurrent government expenditure for the elderly on social welfare, social security and medical services will reach $75.3 billion in 2017-18, representing 20.3 per cent of our total government recurrent expenditure. In other words, for every $10 spent by the Government, a little over $2 goes to the elderly people.

     Our cardinal policy principle is to promote active ageing and ageing-in-place as the core, institutional care as the backup. Encouraging elderly people to stay active would enable more of them to achieve and sustain physical, mental and social wellness.

     According to a study conducted by the University of Hong Kong and the Department of Health in 2010, the prevalence of clinically significant depressive symptoms among the elderly population of Hong Kong is about 10 per cent. This implies that the mental health of our elderly people requires serious attention. Factors such as health problems, loneliness and isolation, fears, and recent bereavements usually contribute to the vulnerability of older people, exposing them to higher risks of depression.

     The active ageing approach which encourages elderly people to participate in meaningful engagements can serve to lower the risk of depression by cultivating a sense of worthiness, broadening participants' social network and providing opportunities for them to further contribute to society. To this end, the Social Welfare Department launched the Opportunities for the Elderly Project (OEP) in 1998-1999 to subsidise social service agencies, district organisations and educational institutes to carry out a wide range of programmes of active ageing. OEP was regularised in April 2003.

     Apart from promoting mental health, identifying high-risk cases and providing support and remedial services through mainstream services such as integrated family service centres, medical social services units and integrated community centres for mental wellness, the Social Welfare Department has also subsidised the Samaritan Befrienders Hong Kong, a non-governmental organisation, to operate the Suicide Crisis Intervention Centre. The Centre offers specialised services including outreaching service, immediate crisis intervention, intensive counselling and volunteer training groups for emotionally disturbed persons, persons with suicide attempts, and relatives and friends of persons who committed suicide.

     At district and neighbourhood levels, the Government provides community support services for elderly people, including those suffering from dementia and their carers, through the 210 subvented elderly centres across the territory. These include training and counselling services, community outreach, assistance in forming carers' mutual help groups and setting up resources centres. The Support Teams for the Elderly attached to District Elderly Community Centres (DECCs) often conduct community outreach, care about the mental and social wellness of the elderly people, engage hidden elders and offer the needed assistance to elders.

     Since 2014-15, an additional full-year recurrent funding of some $22 million has also been provided to the 41 DECCs to strengthen their social worker set-up, with a view to enhancing the support services for elderly persons with dementia and their carers. Elderly people who are prone to depression or suffer from depression and their carers may also benefit from the counselling services and community outreach services available at the community level. Besides, our medical social workers who are members of Psychogeriatric Teams of the Hospital Authority also work closely with the medical and allied health professionals to provide timely and appropriate welfare services and support to elders with mental health problems as well as their carers.

     To cater for the service needs of the elder users, including those with depression, our 24 Integrated Community Centres for Mental Wellness (ICCMWs) across Hong Kong would provide casework services and arrange thematic activities and programmes in accordance with the district characteristics, such as interest groups targeted for the elders. Some ICCMWs also collaborate with local partners with expertise in delivery of elderly services to conduct programmes on promotion of elderly mental wellness. The ICCMWs provide one-stop, district-based and diversified community support services for discharged mental patients and persons with suspected mental health problems who are aged 15 or above, their families/carers and residents living in the serving district. From service commencement in 2010 until December 2016, ICCMWs have served over 59 000 ex-mentally ill persons and persons with suspected mental health problems, and also more than 16 000 public education activities were conducted with over 840 000 in attendance. In 2016-17, the Government's expenditure on ICCMW service is more than $300 million, an increase of over 360 per cent of that before the setting up of ICCMWs in 2010. In 2017-18, the Government has earmarked an additional full-year recurrent funding of around $32 million to increase the manpower of ICCMWs, thereby strengthening the support for ICCMW members and facilitating them to reintegrate into the community. As at end of March 2016, around 21 per cent of ICCMW members were aged 60 or above.

     Moreover, the Elderly Health Service of the Department of Health adopts a multi-disciplinary approach in promoting the mental health of elderly persons through its Elderly Health Centres (EHCs) and Visiting Health Teams (VHS). Members of EHCs will be assessed on mood and cognitive function during health assessments. Where required, EHCs may refer cases to the Hospital Authority's specialist services for follow-up. The VHS reach out into the community and residential care settings to deliver on-site education and training. A wide range of topics are covered which include common mood problems, stress management, prevention of social isolation and elder abuse, building cognitive reserve, and skills for caring of elderly persons with dementia.

     Ladies and gentlemen, Hong Kong's social and economic development as Asia's world city owes much to the enormous contributions of our senior citizens. We must do our best to ensure that our elders can spend their golden age in a dignified, graceful and respectful manner, and their physical, mental and social wellness can be protected and enhanced for as much as possible.

     I much look forward to the research findings of the three-year JC JoyAge project which aims at developing a co-ordinated service model between ICCMWs and DECCs to provide holistic support for vulnerable and depressed elderly in the community.

     This is again a shining example of Jockey Club's visionary and innovative venture in addressing newly emerged social issues in collaboration with the leading experts and partners. It is also a timely initiative when we are in the midst of developing the Elderly Services Programme Plan and launching a new round of review of the Hong Kong Rehabilitation Programme Plan. I am sure that the outcomes of this project, including the new service delivery model to be developed, will be very good food for thought in our forthcoming planning of elderly and rehabilitation services and shed light on Hong Kong's way forward in further promoting and enhancing the mental wellness for our elderly people.

     On this note, let me wish today's event every success and all of you an enjoyable and fruitful exchange in the symposium.

     Thank you.
Ends/Thursday, March 23, 2017
Issued at HKT 16:18
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