Help me if you can I’m feeling down
And I do appreciate you being ‘round
Help me get my feet back on the ground
Won’t you please, please help me
(The Beatles, Help!, 1965)
Humans are not well designed to handle change. Is it any wonder then that we all feel a bit down from time to time? We prefer certainty, predictability and the feeling of being in control of our lives and destinies. That hasn’t changed a smidgen since the Beatles’ heyday.
So consider how are you feeling right now. If you can, and it’s safe to do so, stop what you’re doing for a minute and check into your experience of being alive. How are you feeling, and how does your world look to you right now?
If you are feeling at all unsure or overwhelmed, you are certainly not alone. A 2017 study conducted by the non-profit organization, Mind Hong Kong, found that 25% of Hong Kongers experienced serious anxiety or depression in the past 12 months. Given the political upheaval and pandemic that has happened since 2017, the current situation is likely even worse. It is likely that someone in your family or circle of friends or work colleagues is experiencing a mental challenge right now, whether you are aware of it or not.
In my case, two family members and a close friend have experienced serious threats to their mental and emotional well-being in the past six years. Two of them went through the emergency door of their local hospital and landed in psychiatric wards for extended periods. These personal experiences were both emotionally and mentally disturbing and disruptive, and oftentimes accompanied by my own feelings of helplessness and inability to make the situation better. Complicating the process was the need for me to understand the medical jargon-laden diagnoses and the medications administered on behalf of my family members.
“In a New York minute, everything can change,” well-describes my lived experiences with others struggling with a mental health challenge. It has reinforced for me how important it is to maintain a healthy state of well-being equilibrium, and just how fragile and fleeting that can be.
The New York Times reported in June 2021 that American kids are suffering severe mental health conditions younger and younger. Teenagers used to be the ones most at risk for mental health conditions during the stressful period of adolescence. However, there are now long waiting lines for admission into pediatric psychiatric wards in the US for pre-teens aged 8-12, who have already suffered moderate or severe mental health events, including failed attempts to end their young lives.
In Hong Kong, the shortage of trained mental health care professionals and the social stigma associated with mental illness contributes to many locals facing long delays for professional diagnoses and not receiving appropriate treatment with the urgency required.
If you, or someone you know, are feeling down, what are the full range of options available to you or others? Are new technologies helpful? Let’s delve into that.
First, let’s look at three traditional approaches.
Approach #1: Speak with Family, Friends & Colleagues
Most people are not trained as psychologists or psychiatrists. So, it is not surprising that most people fail to be successful in self-diagnosis and self-treatment without professional support.
The first choice for many people experiencing a personal challenge to wellbeing or mental health is to arrange a conversation with the people they are closest with.
Speaking with individuals that one knows is perhaps the easiest approach to initiate and arrange. When this approach works well, the positive experience can be one of being well listened to with openness, understanding and acceptance That kind of response can be very positive to enhance an individual’s stability and sense of feeling good about themselves.
However, far too often consulting with family, friends and colleagues fails to yield a positive experience. Instead, what often surfaces from the confidante-listener is:
- Giving advice (“If I were you…”)
- Sharing opinions (“Let me tell you what I’m thinking”)
- Judgments (“Your situation is unacceptable and intolerable—and it’s not your fault”).
Even worse is when the listener is keen to share their similar “me too” experiences (e.g. “Your situation reminds me exactly of the time I was faced with…Let me tell you what I did”).
Recently, I experienced how hard it is to listen to another person with empathy and openness, while withholding judgment or offering advice. A family member experiencing depression told me that I wasn’t listening to them about their current experience, and I wasn’t getting what they wanted to communicate. They said that my judgments, advice and financial considerations muddied the waters even more at a time they were experiencing despair and uncertainty. Getting that feedback reinforced for me how difficult it is to listen without judgment.
Approach # 2: Seek Professional Support
Many people experiencing sustained periods of anxiety or depression eventually turn to professional help or coaching. But many unfortunately do not and so are never properly diagnosed or treated.
Individuals that recognize the gravity of the problem they are dealing with and feel inclined to seek help can schedule an appointment with their physician. They can also seek out a therapist or life coach, and, in more serious cases, schedule an appointment with a psychologist (non-medical doctor) or a psychiatrist (medical doctor).
It’s not that easy, however, for a person in personal distress to decide what kind of healthcare professional, and who specifically to schedule time with. The person seeking treatment is looking for immediate help and some sort of relief from their distress. However, making and keeping an appointment takes considerable time, patience and commitment, as does finding the right specialist. The latter also requires experimentation to find someone with whom you share a natural affinity, chemistry, connection and ability to communicate.
If the challenges of finding and meeting with a healthcare professional weren’t difficult and confronting enough, the cost to obtaining regular and ongoing professional advice from a specialist can be steep and prohibitive for many people. Speaking with a healthcare professional in Hong Kong typically costs between HK$ 700-2000 per hour, depending on the healthcare professionals’ credentials and experience.
What does all of this add up to for people in Hong Kong experiencing a mental healthcare situation or crisis seeking professional help? Well, according to a study conducted by Neurum, a Hong Kong based company, 74% of local employees they surveyed indicated they will not actively seek professional help even while in distress.
There must be a better way. And, maybe there is…
Approach # 3: Experiment With New Technology-Driven Platforms
Speaking with family, friends and colleagues, as we have seen, has its limitations. Seeking out professional support is difficult and costly.
New technologies, however, are expanding the options available for getting easier and earlier support. In the last five years, two new types of online, technology-driven apps have appeared: AI-driven and non-AI driven apps.
For the purposes of this article, let’s review what’s now available with non-AI driven apps.
For individuals open to experimentation and discovery, there is now a plethora of well-being devices that focus on recording, tracking and measuring mood, providing reminders, offering useful resources, reducing stress, and learning coping skills.
There are also apps that target how to address specific mental health related diagnoses and conditions that a person may know that they are suffering such as anxiety, panic attacks, depression or bipolar types I & 2. Specific techniques, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) are often employed online.
One advantage of mobile wellbeing apps is that they generally cost less for a whole year than even one session with a healthcare professional.
Wellbeing mobile apps that do not provide direct counseling links to therapists, psychologists and psychiatrists (e.g. Happify or Shine ) are priced at HK$ 500-700 per year. Links that do provide direct connections to therapists (e.g. Talkspace, Headspace, Teencounseling) range in price from HK$ 1,300–3,200 per month, depending on the type of counseling, the background and training of the therapist and the frequency of the interactions.
Other well-being focused mobile apps (e.g. Moodfit, Mood Mission) are specifically designed to help subscribers to find a therapist to work with them on an online virtual platform.
Two of the benefits of these new technologies are their cost-effectiveness and ease of use. Please check out and experiment with the above online apps to find the ones that are the best suited to you and your needs.
About the author: Steve Hardacre’s vision is for Hong Kong to become a globally recognized benchmark of success in addressing pervasive mental health challenges. Achieving that, requires everyone’s participation, and a major shift in how we co-create solutions for major impact.
Steve is the co-founder of two Hong Kong based consultancies: QNTM Consulting and Game Changing Healthcare.
Both companies offer a Social Impact Accelerator program that helps organizations and individuals develop and implement social impact projects, including mental health, with three goals:
-contribute to society
-achieve financial and other outcomes for the organization
-develop the talent, skills and capabilities of participants
Email him at: email@example.com
Written exclusively for WELL, Magazine Asia by Steve Hardacre