Mental Health, Pastoral Care and the Education System in Hong Kong

Trigger warning: mentions of suicide

When I think of the worst experience of my life, I no doubt think about my experience with depression and anxiety instantaneously. However it is also an experience I would never want to take back. Through going my mental health issues, I learned a lot about myself as a person and I also matured a lot in ways I wouldn’t have if I haven’t been through this battle.

I recently went to my psychiatrist as I do every 10 weeks or so to stock up on my meds and to have a quick catch up on how my mental health is. We were talking about how I am quite open about my depression and he was like “Yes, I suppose it’s different over in the UK… people are generally more accepting of these things than here” (here being Hong Kong). That got me thinking about not just the stigma but mental illness in general in Hong Kong.

When my parents told me they sent me to study at an international school instead of a local school as a little child due to putting less academic pressure on me, I always thought they were exaggerating just a little bit over how tough the education system in Hong Kong was. That was until they told me of our financial circumstance at a time. I was a little child so I had no idea how much money we had but judging from what my parents tell me now, we didn’t have a lot and my parents worked really hard in order to support me to go an expensive school. That really put things in perspective for me. Then this year there were several cases of students committing suicide.

The government had confirmed that the number of children among mental health patients have increased – as high as 5 per cent annually. This is in particular due to the high expectations families in East Asia typically holds for their children regarding their academics and the intense examination based education system we have in HK. The education system is absolutely appalling to me and frankly needs to change. In 2016, a study from the University of Hong Kong revealed that some primary school students were given less outdoor time than prisoners with the students given 295 minutes of outdoor time per week in comparison to the 300 minutes the prisoners receive.

The system also neglects the fact that everyone learns differently and children with learning difficulties are not provided with the correct support both educationally and financially. This is incredibly concerning to me. I have a little 9 year old brother who suffers from dyslexia which has contributed to his low self esteem regarding his academic excellence. Many a times he has went to me and called himself ‘dumb’ or ‘stupid’ and I know he believes every word. His friends laugh at him for ‘still learning phonics’ in Year 5 but luckily due to the incredible support his school provides him, he is able to improve rapidly. If he was sent to a local school, I have no doubt his self esteem would have plummeted more so than it has now on top of the lack of support the local school system seems to provide.

When I was still studying in HK, I received tremendous support for my mental illness from school as well. I would be able to go to school for half days and leave at lunch time as it was physically too much for me to be in an environment I was not happy in. I was able to have regular counseling sessions and my teachers would constantly check up on me. My teachers gave me a ‘time out card’ in which I would present to my teacher when my anxiety was acting up. All these things are things I am very grateful for as without the support of the staff, I would not have been able to cope.

I think pastoral care is an incredibly important part of school as academics can lead to incredible amounts of stress therefore when I’m looking at universities to apply to, I take pastoral care into account heavily as it is something massively important to me. While Hong Kong is a modern city in many ways, it definitely need to advance in terms of pastoral care towards the young citizens of this city.

I personally find Hong Kong a terrible place to study due to the lack of greenery and silence. It is moving 24/7 and it is so busy it is just impossible for me to get work done and my appalling IGCSE grades are very prominent reminders of it.

I have conflicting feelings regarding this city, however, my little brother seems to be doing fine educationally so god hopes he has a better experience studying here than I did.

this was a long post oops but hope you enjoyed something a little different

Nicole xx

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