Special Report – Mental Health Issues

Suicides and suicidal thoughts, as well as symptoms of depression, anxiety and insomnia, were all exacerbated by the pandemic.

Macau Affairs | January 2023 | Special Report | Three Years of Pandemic – What Has Changed?


The first lockdowns due to the pandemic were still in place and the first warnings were already being heard about the probable medium and, who knows, long-term mental health consequences.

According to the Health Bureau, there have been a total of 65 suicides in October 2022 since the beginning of the year, more than in the entire previous year (60 recorded in 2021).

“The COVID-19 pandemic that has been going on for more than two years and the repeated unstable pandemic situation in neighboring regions mean that citizens inevitably show different levels of psychological problems, such as anxiety, depression and mental stress,” the Health Bureau added. please. time.

The Health Bureau expanded on the topic in light of the latest statistics: “Due to the pandemic, many people are unable to leave their homes, are in quarantine, are ‘locked’ at home, and this is likely to affect the people of Macau, including not only the old, but also the young, and probably for these people they will be in a hidden situation,” said Kwok Wai Tak of the Psychiatric Service of the city’s public hospital.

“Many struggle with ongoing travel restrictions, job insecurity, day-to-day uncertainties, lack of space and freedom, and disrupted lifestyles, so that can cause families’ financial stress and well-being,” explains Prof. Helen Liu, assistant professor and research coordinator for the Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Saint Joseph.

The issue came up in the Legislative Assembly, where legislator Kam Fai, who is also the principal of Pui Ching Secondary School, expressed particular concern about the increase in the number of young people committing suicide, and the Chief Executive explained that economic pressure played a critical role:

“I am aware of how negatively the economy has affected people’s mental health.

“The situation has led to uncertainty about the future and has made many people anxious. It can lead to inappropriate emotional release” – Helen Liu

According to Ho Iat Seng, “Now that the economy is gradually improving, it is possible to solve economic problems and reduce the number of suicides.”

“The situation has led to uncertainty about the future and has made many people anxious. It can cause inappropriate emotional release. The number of domestic violence cases has increased slightly with an average of six cases per month according to the IAS. Ultimately, child abuse may increase significantly,” Professor Liu also added.

In the past three years, numerous studies have been carried out locally to better understand the situation.

One compared suicidal ideation (SI) levels in 10 countries and regions, including Macau, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

An online survey was completed by 25,053 people and the results revealed that the United Kingdom and Brazil had the lowest rates of suicidal ideation compared to Macau. According to the authors (between them, Yu Tao Xiang, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Macau), “It is surprising to note that the UK and Brazil had lower rates of SI than Macau’s.”

The authors speculate on the reasons that could have explained this result, especially the fact that “Macau is a well-known country [region] for migrant workers suffering from social inequalities such as social isolation, crowded living conditions, lack of access to disinfectants and personal protective equipment.”

The general state of mental health of Macau residents has been the subject of other studies.

In 2020, five researchers from the University of Macau examined how the mental distress of the COVID-19 pandemic was perceived by the general public and how that perception related to lifestyle changes.

They found a prevalence of 8.8 percent probable depression and 12.0 percent probable anxiety in the sample. “Positive perceptions about the government’s pandemic responses were found to be negatively associated with probable depression and probable anxiety. Three lifestyle-altering stressors (i.e., increased family conflict, friendship deterioration, and weight gain) were commonly reported and showed positive associations with probable depression.

Another study on the initial phase of the pandemic, also with the participation of several researchers from the University of Macau, but not only, wanted to know “The spinal symptoms of depression”.

They concluded that “loss of energy, psychomotor difficulties, and guilt were the symptoms with the highest centrality indices, indicating that these three symptoms were spinal symptoms of depression.”

A third study – Network analysis of depression, anxiety, insomnia and quality of life among Macau residents during the COVID-19 pandemic – also focused on the first few months of the lockdown and again had its roots in various departments of the University of Macau. It turned out that the prevalence of symptoms of depression, anxiety and insomnia was 38.5, 28.8 and 276, respectively.

“Insomnia symptoms played a critical role in the network of distress symptoms related to the centrality of nodes and bridges, as well as associations with quality of life among Macau residents. Accurate attention to these symptoms may be critical to reduce risk and prevent exacerbations of common forms of anxiety in this population,” the 12 authors wrote.


Focus on young people

“The Health Bureau calls on society and the public to pay attention to the mental health of young people and to pay more attention and listen more to young people in their daily lives, to pay attention to their opinions or emotions, to attitudes which they can be aggressive and can lead to suicide, so listening to them allows them to express themselves and prevent incidents,” the department noted.

“To prevent youth suicide, one of the most important measures is the early assessment and diagnosis of high-risk groups and patients, and timely access to health care, as this can significantly reduce the occurrence of adverse situations, as well as the benefits of youth development , socialization and learning,” the Bureau added.

“Parents have too high expectations of their children to meet their unmet needs in the past,” said Professor Helen Liu. “Parents sometimes don’t know how to communicate or educate. In response to this situation, education in family life is the community education with prevention and development functions.”

The research coordinator of the Faculty of Health Sciences, USJ, through Macau Business, suggests the need “to improve family functions, strengthen family ties and prevent broken families through a range of educational and promotional activities. Parenting education, communication skills between parents and children, improving parent-child interaction; adolescent rebellion; emotional management of parents, communication skills between parents and children; cooperation / communication between parents and schools.”

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Special Report – Mental Health Issues

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