Coronavirus: Many Hongkongers find disruption to social life toughest to handle amid curbs to contain epidemic, says survey

02-Apr-2020 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:02 AM Print This Post

The crimping of their social life is what Hongkongers are finding hardest to take during the coronavirus outbreak, rather than effects on their finances or mental well-being, according to a survey commissioned by the Post.

The poll, conducted by Chinese University’s Centre for Communication and Public Opinion Survey, also discovered that the wealthier Hong Kong residents were, the harder they found it to cope with the social isolation demanded by the times.

From March 19 to 27, the centre interviewed 847 Hong Kong residents aged 15 or above to gauge their views on how the city’s government had responded to the Covid-19 outbreak, and how the crisis had affected their finances and emotions, as well as social and daily lives.

The survey’s findings were revealed exclusively by the Post on Tuesday, as Hong Kong recorded 32 more confirmed cases of coronavirus infection, taking the city’s total to 714.

People should pay attention to any feelings of unease that lead to decreased appetite, insomnia and mood swings

Psychiatrist Ivan Mak

In terms of finances, 33.8 per cent of respondents said the negative impact that the outbreak brought to their life was substantial either “very big” or “quite big”. Some 47.3 per cent said the negative impact was “mild”, while only 18.2 per cent said the outbreak did not adversely affect their finances at all.

It was a similar picture for people’s psychological state, where 32.1 per cent said the negative impact that the outbreak brought to their life was substantial, and 52.8 per cent said the negative impact was “mild”.

But asked if the outbreak had affected their daily lives, such as their work, schooling or their meals, 51.4 per cent responded that the negative impact was big, and 36.8 per cent said it was mild.

It was worse in terms of social life, where 53.6 per cent said the outbreak had caused substantial adverse effects on them, and a further 36.4 per cent said the impact was negative but mild.

Psychiatrist Dr Ivan Mak Wing-chit said that, as the government’s strategies for preventing a large-scale epidemic relied heavily on residents’ self-discipline to practise social distancing, most Hongkongers had drastically changed their social behaviour to help contain the virus’ spread.

Mak said as the wealthier and the younger usually led more vibrant social lives, it might be harder for them to cope with the isolation.

“It’s fine to feel depressed for a few days. But people should pay attention to any feelings of unease that lead to decreased appetite, insomnia and mood swings,” he said. “If you ignore these signs, it could take its toll on mental health.”

Chinese University’s poll showed that among those aged 15 to 24, 60.4 per cent said the outbreak had a big impact on their social life, but among those aged 60 or above, a relatively small percentage, 46.6 per cent, complained of a big impact on social activities.

Among those with a monthly household income of less than HK$15,000 (US$1,935), while 42.8 per cent said the outbreak had a big adverse effect on their social life, 18.2 per cent said there was no negative impact at all.

Yet among those earning HK$60,000 or more each month, 59.9 per cent complained that their social life was being severely undermined, while only 6.2 per cent said there was no negative impact.

It was the opposite in terms of finances, where 34.6 per cent of those less well off said the outbreak was a huge blow, while the proportion was slightly smaller, at 32.3 per cent, for those better off.

Mak cited Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, where “higher needs” including the sense of connection emerge only when people feel they have sufficiently satisfied the basic needs of food and shelter.

“This explained that the less well off were not unaffected, but they have to tackle the financial issues first before [being concerned about] impacts on their social life,” he said.

Even though the outbreak appeared to have taken a relatively smaller toll on people’s emotions than on their social lives, Jamie Cheng Po-kwan, chairwoman of the division of clinical psychology at the Hong Kong Psychological Society, said it was already alarming that 32 per cent of respondents expressed that the outbreak had moderate or severe impacts on their psychological condition.

During the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) outbreak in 2003, which claimed 299 lives in Hong Kong, one in five people suffered from mood problems that included headaches, anxiety and depression, according to a study conducted in May that year at the University of Hong Kong.

In the current epidemic, which is expected to affect daily routines for longer, Cheng reminded people to help high-risk groups, including older individuals who live alone and those already living with mental health issues, to alleviate their mental distress by maintaining social connections with them, sharing accurate information on the outbreak, and encouraging them to practise relaxation techniques.


Category: Hong Kong

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