The pandemic has taken its toll on our mental health, and in particular, affected those most vulnerable in our community. We talk to Cynthia Lee from HSBC Private Banking on why investing in mental health matters
As the coronavirus puts the world on hold, many of us are struggling with the emotional distress of being socially isolated, worrying about the health of our family and friends, and the lack of financial stability among many others. According to leading medical journal, The Lancet, quarantine and social distancing have exacerbated feelings of anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress.
In Hong Kong, a survey conducted by the University of Hong Kong found that nearly 70% of the population experienced depressive symptoms, while 40% expressed post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms due to the ongoing pandemic.
In particular, marginalised groups including children, the elderly and minority groups like those from a low-income household or the disabled are especially vulnerable. These groups which tend to have less access to resources or quality help, make them more susceptible to the mental stress that the coronavirus has inadvertently caused.
“The emotional wellbeing of children and young people are just as important as their physical health” says Cynthia Lee, the Head of Private Wealth Solutions, Asia at HSBC Private Banking. “Good mental health facilitates a strong start in life and allows them to develop a resilience to cope with whatever life throws at them.”
When it comes to seniors, Cynthia states “many of the elderly are socially isolated, and many live within the confines of a nursing home or an institution”, which makes them more likely to experience isolation and develop feelings of loneliness. Meanwhile for migrant groups, there are physical barriers as well as sometimes cultural and language barriers which make it difficult to access proper treatment.
Research has shown that mental health is generally underfunded and tends to be overlooked on a large scale. Understanding this, the team at HSBC were inspired to allocate more resources into mental health and launched the Mind Matters: A Hackathon for Social Impact earlier this year.
“(We) feel the importance of mental wellbeing, of having a positive mindset, and being able to put resources into raising the awareness of mental health” says Cynthia about the initiative. At the beginning of the year, during the initial outbreak of Covid-19, the team were working on sourcing hygiene kits and face masks. But through this initiative, the opportunity to partner with Asian Charity Services and collaborate with non-governmental organisations in Hong Kong that specialised in helping vulnerable groups, allowed for a more hands-on approach.
Cynthia explains, “(we) wanted to act as a bridge, we wanted to be a connector, and connect our clients of the banks (individuals and wealthy families) together with NGOs”. Utilising their resources, over 120 NGOs were involved, 76 projects were submitted, and 12 charities were able to pitch their passion projects to over 200 of the bank’s clients.
The initiative announced last month that projects by the following organisations would all be receiving funding: The Hong Kong Cancer Fund, SLCO Community Resources Limited, The Education University of Hong Kong & Edge Development Centre, The Hong Kong Society for Rehabilitation, and The Hong Kong Society for the Blind – Kowloon Home for the Aged Blind.
Among the initiatives, students from low-income households who are feeling anxiety over their academic work, would be able to receive educational resources like one-on-one tutoring sessions. Young people who have experienced a family member being diagnosed with cancer or have recently fallen victim to cancer would be able to access quality counselling and support.
Groups like those with chronic health conditions and their caregivers which are more susceptible to depression and anxiety than the general population would have access to proper treatment to help manage their stresses. Visually impaired elderly people who are experiencing isolation and loneliness would also be able to enjoy learning to play instruments and experience the pleasure of making music together. And, hearing-impaired groups would have the opportunity to be trained to serve as counsellors, which would promote the groups' social integration and understanding among the rest of the population.
“We recognise, we cannot do everything in mental health, in our little part, part of our goal is education and awareness purposes.” Cynthia says “mental health is universal, it’s for everybody, in philanthropy, these vulnerable groups are most in need.”