Student ambassadors trained to tackle mental health issues

Sharon Ng

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Fifteen City University of Hong Kong (CityU) students, together with 100 students from other post-secondary institutes, will receive four days of training starting from 17 June to deal with mental health issues as part of the Joint Institution Student Mental Health Ambassadors Programme (The Programme), of which CityU has been participating in the last three years.

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The Programme, conceived in response to studies showing the high frequency of mental and emotional problems among university students, is organised by the Hong Kong Tertiary Institutions Health Care Working Group (Health Group) for the third year. After receiving training, these students will serve as mental health ambassadors for one year to help promote mental health education activities for their respective institutes in order to enhance fellow students’ awareness of mental health and create an empathetic culture on campus.

During the four days of training, many experienced psychiatrists, clinical psychologists and counsellors, invited by the Health Group, will explain to students the essential theories relating to mental health, as well as the appropriate attitude and skills necessary to help patients. After the Programme, the student ambassadors will promote mental health education in their institutes by conducting talks, seminars, exhibitions, game booths, questionnaire surveys, film shows and visits to Castle Peak Hospital. Also, the institutes will arrange for professionals to maintain contact with the student ambassadors to ensure they understand the training and establish a student-run support network to help those in need.

Mr Joseph Chan Kai-nin, Director of Student Development Services at CityU and also Chairman of the Hong Kong Student Services Association, quoted sayings about water from ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching comparing the student ambassadors to the precious resource. “You are like water to the parched and thirsty, bringing hope to other students who need help and support,” Mr Chan said.

Ms Holly Wong Kit-ling, Senior Counsellor of Student Development Services at CityU and convenor of the Programme, said the Health Group and the Department of Psychiatry at the Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine at University of Hong Kong conducted mental health surveys of post-secondary students in 2003 and 2005. Results of the two surveys showed high levels of depression, anxiety and stress among local post-secondary students. Such high levels indicate the potential for mental health problems, which will affect study and emotional well-being and development. If the problems are not properly addressed, they can manifest into far more serious consequences, such as a suspension of studies, illness, emotional breakdown, drug abuse or even suicide.

“The surveys found that most of the interviewees relyed upon internet resources, peer opinions or hobby addiction to alleviate their problems. Very few of them would seek professional counselling services,” explained Ms Wong. “Hence, we felt it important to promote students’ awareness of mental health issues and introduced the Programme in 2006.”

Tim Li Lok-tim, Victor Cheung Kai-lam and Aileen Wong participated in the Programme last year and became student ambassadors. Tim Li, Year 3 student in the BSc (Hons) in Applied Chemistry at CityU, said that when he served as a voluntary worker he did not know how to comfort the elderly suffering from depression. The programme enabled him to acquire the appropriate skills and temperament to soothe those affected by mental problems.

“I once came across an upset old lady and I plucked up the courage to start talking to her. After she spoke about her problems, she smiled and became happy again. I later referred her to a social worker for follow-up but the fact she had someone to discuss her problems with had made an enormous difference to her state-of-mind,” he said.

Victor Cheung, Year 2 student in BSSc (Hons) Counselling and Psychology at Hong Kong Shue Yan University, helped organise last year a series of campus activities, such as film appreciation sessions, to discuss depression and made trips to Castle Peak Hospital to visit doctors and patients. “An assessment of the events revealed that students became more positive after taking part in the activities.”

Aileen Wong, Year 2 student majoring in both Comparative Literature and English Studies at University of Hong Kong, said she had many friends who had been affected by study or relationship problems. After participating in the Programme, she learned important listening techniques. She said the training had helped her better understand the importance of seeking professional advice.

The Health Group consists of medical staff, student officers and counselling professionals from 10 local post-secondary institutes, including Hong Kong Baptist University, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, City University of Hong Kong, The Hong Kong Institute of Education, Hong Kong Institute of Vocational Education (Tsing Yi), The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hong Kong Shue Yan University, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Lingnan University and University of Hong Kong. It aims to provide mental health education activities for local post-secondary students.

Over the past two years, the Programme has trained about 200 students as mental health ambassadors. “The ambassadors have successfully used their influence on campus to make their fellow students understand the importance of mental health,” said Ms Wong. “Each of them has taken the initiative to help their fellow students.”

Each institute organises its own activities to promote mental health. CityU, for example, will host a mental health week, film appreciation sessions and other activities next year.

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