The mental health and well-being of university students in Hong Kong has deteriorated over the past three years, according to new research, with experts emphasising the need for tertiary-level curricula to integrate elements of “positive education” – an approach that seeks to build character through social engagement.
The findings were the result of a cross-sectional survey and an accompanying longitudinal study that polled about 1,000 students – aged 18 to 24 – from five universities on their levels of happiness and life satisfaction between 2017 and 2020.
Most of the respondents were part of the Joint University Mental Wellness Project (JUMP), which organises conferences, mental wellness workshops, community projects and study tours in an effort to promote mental wellness.
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The longitudinal study, which tracked 271 university students from 2017 through January of 2020, found the level of social well-being declined by 11 per cent, from a score of 3.5 to a score of 3.1 on a six-point scale.
The respondents were asked whether they agreed with statements such as “I think our society is an ideal society”, and “our society is gradually becoming an ideal society”.
Dr Sylvia Kwok Lai Yuk-ching, an associate professor with the department of social and behavioural sciences at City University, said it was difficult to ascertain whether the decline was due to last year’s anti-government protests – a movement that saw substantial student participation – as no data was collected in the study to measure the correlation between declining well-being and the months of unrest.
“It is a significant decrease, but it is not really alarming,” said Kwok, who presented the findings in a Zoom conference call on Saturday.
Kwok noted that the decline in well-being could not be pinned to last year’s social unrest alone, as many students also faced different stress factors, such as family tensions, academic pressure and the uncertainty of future job prospects.
To Siu-ming, an associate professor at the department of social work at Chinese University, said that aside from providing guidance and activities to university students to strengthen their resilience, educators should also be more involved in engaging students with real society.
“Other studies have also shown that university graduates are facing a multitude of challenges,” To said, “These include psychological and mental health issues, pressures on career planning and also worries over the development and future of the Hong Kong society.”
Meanwhile, of the 976 university students polled in the cross-sectional study, 24.5 per cent reported severe levels of anxiety, while 15.7 per cent indicated severe levels of depression.
Around 60 per cent of respondents reported facing moderate to severe levels of time management pressure, often due to the difficulty of juggling academics, social life, family matters and public affairs.
Despite the challenges, however, over 90 per cent indicated medium to high levels of emotional well-being. But 30 per cent scored low in social well-being, which broadly includes areas of social inclusion and a sense of belonging in the society.
The JUMP programme – which employs tenets of positive education – has drawn 4,600 students from City University, Baptist University, Education University, Chinese University and the University of Hong Kong, including a year five Chinese medicine student from Baptist University, who spoke on Saturday’s conference call.
The student, who gave her name as Tam, said that taking part in mental health workshops and study tours had helped her strengthen her character, and she encouraged other students to engage in community activities.
“As a Chinese medicine student, I helped to distribute traditional medicine packs to the elderly, and it helped me reach people with different social needs,” Tam said, “The community project helped me find a sense of belonging.” She also suggested the government open up more platforms for communication with the general public to repair social tears, including lingering tensions and mistrust from last year’s protest movement and the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
This article Mental well-being among Hong Kong university students has declined since 2017, a new study has found first appeared on South China Morning Post