The state of Hong Kong’s mental health system is worrying. An alarming series of student suicides in recent years has raised concerns over the state of mental wellbeing of teenagers in the city. For years, there has been a severe shortage of psychiatrists and psychologists, and waiting times for access to mental health services are up to 167 weeks in some areas. With this in mind, HKFP has assembled a guide to the services available in the city.
Although this guide has been compiled with information from reputable sources such as the Hospital Authority, and facts have been cross-checked with those working in local mental health fields, due to the sensitive nature of the topic HKFP does not accept any liability for the professional integrity or ability of organisations listed here on the guide.
Seeking medical help: Public hospitals & governmental services
Hospital Authority: A person wishing to receive medical assistance for mental health illnesses – be it depression, anxiety, eating disorders, or substance abuse – via public hospitals or clinics first needs a referral from a general doctor. Following that, a meeting with a specialist will be arranged, and a triage assessment then determines how urgent the patient’s case is. The waiting time to be referred to an outpatient clinic at a psychiatry specialist outpatient clinic is dependent on the assessment. Currently, the waiting time for each hospital cluster is as follows:
According to the Hospital Authority website, waiting times for what is determined to be a “stable case” can go up to 167 weeks if you are in the Hong Kong West area, but the waiting time for 90 percent of new case bookings is shorter than that.
If a person’s condition is serious and urgent and they would like to seek immediate help, he/she could check themselves into a hospital by approaching the A&E, or calling emergency services. Depending on the level of emergency, patients could be required to stay in hospital – one could be voluntarily admitted by giving consent or involuntarily committed under the order of doctors. Patients who do not require hospital stays or who are discharged may be referred to the specialist out-patient clinics and continue receiving treatment there.
Depending on the situation and the needs of the patient, the specialist clinic could also refer the patient to clinical psychologists or other services such as the community psychiatric nursing services with the Hospital Authority to facilitate recovery. Those which provide services with the Hospital Authority include psychiatrists, nurses, clinical psychologists, occupational therapists and medical social workers.
Patients with special needs may be referred to the Castle Peak Hospital, which provides services such as alcohol and substance abuse treatment, old age psychiatry and more. The Hospital Authority also has a special programme for patients with psychosis.
All charges are in accordance with that of the Hospital Authority, listed here.
Social Welfare Department: Apart from the Hospital Authority, the Social Welfare Department also provides free clinical psychology assistance. One can call the departmental hotline for assistance and visit the Integrated Family Services Centre in their district, and speak with a social worker; after the initial screening, the social worker may make a referral to the corresponding Clinical Psychology Unit for psychological services.
For free one-stop mental health services, anyone aged 15 or above and their families can also visit the department’s Integrated Community Centres for Mental Wellness, which are found in all districts in the city. Those in need can then be referred to the Hospital Authority’s Community Psychiatric Service.
In the event of emergencies, the department also has a hotline service available during working hours for emergency cases; outside of working hours, the calls are transferred to the Hotline and Outreaching Service Team operated by the Tung Wah Group of Hospitals. Callers can either speak to a hotline counselor or opt to leave a message or seek police assistance.
Private services: psychiatrists, Psychologists and counsellors
Psychiatrists: A psychiatrist in Hong Kong is a medical practitioner registered under the Medical Registration Ordinance who has applied to the Medical Council of Hong Kong for a specialist qualification meeting the professional standard recognised by the Hong Kong Academy of Medicine. A psychiatrist can diagnose and treat mental illnesses, as well as prescribe medication.
Here is a bilingual list of private psychiatrists practising in Hong Kong, supplied by the Hong Kong College of Psychiatrists (under the Hong Kong Academy of Medicine). The website hkdoctors.org – put together by the Hong Kong Medical Association – also has a searchable directory of psychiatrists practising in Hong Kong.
It is, however, advisable to call in advance to inquire about the fees charged by each individual psychiatrist, as prices could range anywhere from a couple of hundred dollars to over a thousand dollars or more a session.
Counselling & Clinical Psychology: There is no statutory registration system for counsellors and psychologists, and the government does not have information about registration and practice.
Because of this, it is not mandatory for any person to be licensed or registered with a government agency or professional board before providing clinical psychology services or using the name of “clinical psychologist” in Hong Kong. Therefore, any person could use the title “clinical psychologist” without being qualified.
The Hong Kong Psychological Society’s Division of Clinical Psychology, founded in 1982, is a professional body in clinical psychology, and members have completed either a master’s or doctorate training programme in clinical psychology. A list of their members can be found here. Its twin organisation is the Hong Kong Clinical Psychologists Association, and the membership criteria for both organisations are set up with the help of authorities such as the Hospital Authority, Department of Health and Social Welfare Department.
The Hong Kong Association of Doctors in Clinical Psychology, set up in 2011, is also a professional organisation comprised of members, being clinical psychologists who have earned a doctoral degree, and their list of clinical psychologists can be found here.
The US Consulate has compiled a list of psychiatrists, clinical psychologists and counsellors, although it does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the firms or persons whose names appear on the list.
Other services & support
Eating disorders: The Hong Kong Eating Disorders Association Limited offers assistance to those suffering from eating disorders. Set up in 1999, it consists of psychiatrists, family doctors, psychologists, social workers and dieticians. It provides treatment in the form of dietetic consultancy (HK$300 a session) and psychotherapy (at least HK$1000, with various discount schemes available to those who require financial assistance). It also has an enquiry hotline, and organises social activities for its members, and free support groups for patients and caregivers of those suffering from eating disorders.
The Hong Kong Eating Disorders Centre at the Chinese University of Hong Kong offers weekly 45-minute sessions, with each session priced at HK$1,400-$1,600.
Substance abuse: The local Alcoholics Anonymous hosts meetings as regular as a few times a day – be it discussions, book studies or talks – mostly in English, although sometimes also in Cantonese. Services are free of charge and although it follows a 12-step recovery programme, members are free to leave at any point.
Apart from substance abuse clinics run by the Hospital Authority and the Department of Health’s voluntary out-patient methadone treatment, different organisations also run counselling centres and voluntary residential treatment rehabilitation programmes. For more information, visit the Narcotics Division’s page here.
OCD & Anxiety: OCD & Anxiety Support Hong Kong is a non-profit that hosts monthly meetings for sufferers to share their fears and anxiety in a confidential environment. Meetings run on Saturdays once a month and although it is free to attend, RSVP via email is necessary. Usually, around eight to 25 members attend the meetings. The meetings are conducted in English (as many of the members are expats), but since more locals have been joining, translation is also provided (by interns, for example). It offers support in the form of listening, sharing experiences and providing resources and education, but does not counsel or diagnose mental health disorders. Individual counselling at “affordable rates” is also provided by the founder of the group.
Other organisations that provide support are listed here on this Hospital Authority page.
Mood disorders: The Chinese University of Hong Kong’s Hong Kong Mood Disorders Center provides clinical psychology services for those suffering from OCD, anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, PTSD; each session costs HK$1,400 – HK$1,600.
Psychosis: Apart from government services mentioned earlier (such as the Hospital Authority’s EASY programme), the Early Psychosis Foundation also offers education and training on dealing with psychosis. The University of Hong Kong also has a website providing information relating to psychosis.
Multilingual services: The St. John’s Cathedral Counselling Services serves all in Hong Kong regardless of age, race, residency status, gender, sexual orientation, religion, etc. The centre has counsellors who speak English, Cantonese, Mandarin, Korean, Japanese, German, French, Spanish, Hindi, and Polish language skills. Fees are based on a “multiple factor sliding fee” and take into account monthly household income; they are made “as affordable as possible”, according to the organisation. The centre is a member of the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy, American School Counsellors Association, and National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers.
ReSource: The Counselling Centre is also a multicultural organisation that offers confidential counselling on a range of issues in at least seven languages – English, Cantonese, Putonghua, Russian, Hindi, Marathi and Marwadi. Similar to St. John’s Cathedral Counselling Services, ReSource adopts a sliding fee scale based on each client’s family income (around HK$350-$450 a session for families earning HK$10,000 a month, although the staff advises potential clients to call to ask for a more accurate estimate of the fees). The centre is an organisational Member of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy and Agency Member of the Hong Kong Council of Social Service).
Recovery services: New Life Psychiatric Rehabilitation Association helps those recovering from mental illness on their path to leading independent lives. Services it provides include free employment assistance (including training and workshops), counselling and wellness programmes, and family support. It also offers a variety of residential services such as long stay care homes, halfway houses and hostels in different locations across the city. Applicants are required to pay fee charges stipulated by the Social Welfare Department and other charges specified by the Houses, and those with financial difficulties can apply for Comprehensive Social Security Assistance.
Fu Hong Society also offers halfway houses and temporary residences for those recovering from mental health problems, in addition to providing clinical psychology counselling. Prices are also charged according to fees stipulated by the Social Welfare Department.
The Alliance of Ex-mentally Ill of Hong Kong regularly organises events for mental illness recoverees such as outings and birthday parties to build a supportive network for them. It also advocate for the rights of those suffering from mental health problems and engage in community outreach and education programmes in order to eliminate the social stigma attached to mental illnesses. Amity Mutual Support Society and the SHINE Recovery Centre at the Kowloon Hospital also does similar work, while the Christian Oi Hip Fellowship provides religious and spiritual support to mental illness recoverees.
Support services for families: The Baptist Oi Kwan Social Service has a family resource and service centre providing support and counselling for families of those recovering from mental illnesses; one has to join as a member and the membership fee is HK$30 a year. The HK Familylink Mental Health Advocacy Association provides training and education to families so as to help them understand different aspects of mental illness such as their causes, treatment, recovery and so on. It also fight for rights and equal opportunities for mental health sufferers, recoverees, and their families.
Emergencies, suicide prevention & crisis intervention: The Samaritans provide a 24-hour multilingual suicide prevention hotline service and for less urgent cases, the organisation also provides an email service, with a response usually within 24 hours.
The Samaritans Befrienders Hong Kong has, in addition to a 24-hour hotline (service provided mainly in Cantonese), a life education centre which promotes suicide prevention via community services, as well as a suicide crisis intervention centre which provides crisis intervention and counselling. Suicide Prevention Services also has a 24-hour hotline, only available in Cantonese.
The Hong Kong Society of Counseling and Psychology has two hotline numbers one can call to book free face-to-face, telephone or online counselling services (whatsapp and phone at 62181084, and whatsapp at 92383400). Those seeking help will be referred to the members of the professional organisation, which includes counselling by postgraduate students led by veteran counsellors with five to ten years of experience; they can also arrange psychology treatment depending on the case. Counselling is available in both Cantonese and English, and the group also provides instant intervention services. Most services are free except in exceptional cases.
Those who feel that they are at an imminent risk of suicide should contact the emergency services immediately on 999.
Family Crisis Services: The Family Crisis Support Centre operated by Caritas provides 24-hour assistance to people of all ages, genders and races. Services provided include 24-hour hotline service, short-term emergency intervention with overnight accommodation, temporary retreat and others.
Po Leung Kuk has a hotline for women who require emotional support or are facing family violence situations; the number also deals with applications for admission to refuge centres. There is also a 24-hour hotline aimed at providing emotional support to men troubled by relationships with their families.
Services for teens: The Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups has a counselling service targeted towards young people (aged 6 to 24) and their parents; it offers online counselling, experiential counselling (through music, the arts and so on) and a counselling hotline that runs Monday to Saturday, 2pm to 2am.
Breakthrough has an individual psychological counselling service aimed at young people aged 18 to 30, and a family counselling service for families of young people aged 11 to 18. Fees are charged in accordance with the income of the client and his/her family.
Youth Outreach has a 24-hour hotline for young people from ages 8 to 18. The organisation also offers assistance with regards to emergency accommodation, individual and family counselling, academic and career advice, and so on.
The Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs Association of Hong Kong has a trauma treatment service for children and youth aged 5 to 21. The focus is mostly on trauma from broken family situations, and there are sessions every month; each costs HK$200 although financial assistance is provided to those who need it. Its counselling centre also offers counselling for other matters such as anxiety; prices for each session range from HK$50 to $800 depending on one’s family income.
The Hong Kong Children & Youth Services offer a range of services including foster care, clinical psychology, substance abuse, home care services and more.
University services: Most universities provide mental health services to their students; at the University of Hong Kong, one can contact CEDARS for free counselling services, or the University Health Services for medical help. The Chinese University of Hong Kong also has a student counselling and development service.
For similar services provided by other universities please refer to the following links: Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Hong Kong Polytechnic University, City University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong Baptist University, Lingnan University, The Education University of Hong Kong.
Others: Other organisations that provide support services – e.g. support groups, workshops, advocacy work – for those suffering from mental illnesses include the United Centre of Emotional Health & Positive Living, the Christian Family Service Centre, and the Baptist Oi Kwan Social Service.
The government has also compiled a general list of mental health services provided by various organisations here.
Online services & resources
7 cups of tea is an emotional health and well-being service that connects people anonymously with real listeners from all over the world in one-on-one chat or group chat rooms. Listeners are trained to deal with a variety of topics such as grief, breakup, anger management, depression and so on. However, it does not provide suicide prevention guidance and can only refer you to a hotline.
The Hong Kong College of Psychiatrists has an archive of resources on topics such as mental disorders, substance abuse, psychological wellbeing, and forms of treatment. This Hospital Authority page has information on depression and a list of supporting organisations one can contact (although most have already been included in this guide) while the Institute of Mental Health, Castle Peak Hospital website also has a mental health information section.
The Department of Health has a page on mental health, but it covers few topics. The Mental Health Association of Hong Kong‘s resource page has information on mental illnesses, although it is only available in Chinese.
Radioicare is an online radio programme on mental health – the first one of its kind in Hong Kong – operated by the Tung Wah Group of Hospitals. However, most programmes are in Cantonese with the exception of “seven steps to overcome loneliness”, which has already ended; you can revisit its contents online here.
Finally, Buzzfeed has a good guide on taking care of yourself when you’re depressed.