Covid-19 time bomb: Hong Kong jobs crisis sparks rise in serious emotional and mental health problems, experts warn

Covid-19 has taken a toll on Hongkongers’ psychological well-being. Photo: K. Y. Cheng

  • Unable to cope with job loss, ‘some may become suicidal, turn to drugs, alcohol or gambling’
  • Expert says groups hit hardest by unemployment are those aged 20 to 24 and 50 to 54
This is the second instalment of a five-part series in which the Post takes a look at unemployment in Hong Kong, as the city grapples with the aftermath of the months-long civil unrest and the pandemic. You can read part one here.

After Ken Yung lost his job in late January, he became irritable, lost his temper easily and kept picking quarrels with his wife over trivial matters.

Sometimes, they fought so bitterly their 10-year-old daughter would cry her heart out and beg them to stop. That made them cool down, only for Yung’s temper to flare up again.

“I kept having tantrums at my wife for no reason,” he said.

Yung, 51, used to earn about HK$60,000 (US$7,741) a month as a tour guide leading groups of holidaymakers to Japan. Then the coronavirus pandemic ended international travel, he found himself out of work and his earnings plunged to zero.

When his outbursts became unbearable, his 44-year-old wife threatened to divorce him. That shocked him into realizing he needed help, and he started seeing a counsellor.

“My wife’s warning served as a wake-up call that I had to cope with my emotional problems, or she would go,” he said.

Rising unemployment in Hong Kong has created a ticking time bomb of emotional and mental health problems, experts warn, and Yung’s experience reflects what many facing a jobs crisis are experiencing.

In the wake of the pandemic, the jobless rate spiked to its highest level in more than 15 years, hitting 6.2 per cent in the three months to June. The number of unemployed grew to 240,700 for the period April to June, while the number of underemployed rose to 142,900.

There is no respite in sight, as a fresh wave of Covid-19 infections in July brought renewed tightening of social distancing as well as other restrictions.

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