Alarming surge in young mental cases – The Standard Carain Yeung

An alarming number of 10,000 new psychiatric cases involving children and adolescents is seen each year, according to a government source.

To cope with the high number of new cases, a government committee has proposed sending nurses to schools to step up support for youngsters’ mental well-being.

After four years of discussion, the Review Committee on Mental Health, chaired by Secretary for Food and Health Ko Wing-man, released its report yesterday with 40 recommendations in 20 areas to improve mental health.

In 2015-16, more than 226,000 patients were using the Hospital Authority’s psychiatric services, compared to about 187,000 in 2011-12.

A government source said it represented a 2 percent increase year on year. But the needs among children and adolescents grew faster, with rises of 5 to 6 percent recorded annually – equivalent to some 10,000 new cases a year.

The authority recorded 12,589 new child and adolescent cases in 2015-16, and about 11,900 the previous year, the source said. Developmental problems such as attention deficit, hyperactivity and autism spectrum disorders make up 60 percent of these cases, while less than 10 percent suffer from serious conditions such as schizophrenia.

The latest government figures show that these young cases on average have to wait more than a year for their first appointment. The median waiting time ranges from 49 weeks in Kowloon Central and West clusters, to 136 weeks in the New Territories East.

Last September, the government rolled out a two-year pilot scheme in 17 primary and secondary schools to boost support on campuses through a “medical-educational-social collaboration” model.

Psychiatric nurses were sent to schools to take care of students with mental health needs, working with teachers and social workers there.

A major goal is to handle the students’ needs in the school setting to cut down their hospital appointments, the source said, adding that this will benefit the students and shorten the queues in the long run.

It is expected the scheme will help 200 students, with the source saying the government will study its effectiveness.

As for adults, the committee suggested the authority conduct a review of its case management program, as a case manager currently handles 47 patients with serious mental illness. It recommended the ratio be lowered to 1:40.

Dementia remains the major mental health problem for the elderly, with about 12,360 patients being treated in the public medical sector as of 2006 year end.

A two-year pilot was launched in February to provide training, so as to delay their symptoms and hospitalization needs. About 2,000 elderly patients are expected to be covered by the scheme.

“If it’s possible, we don’t want them in hospitals,” the source said, adding the preference is to raise support at the community level.