Hong Kong turmoil taking toll on families
A mother, 59, whose surname is Kwan, grieves for her youngest son, gone nearly two months after an angry quarrel about the Hong Kong protests.
The young man of 25 whom Kwan remembers had a quiet, warmhearted personality.
She saw a different son that day in late July. He flew into a rage, pushed Kwan aside and stormed out the door. Kwan has not heard from him since, and her messages to him go unanswered.
"My heart is broken and I feel like life has turned gray in these weeks since," Kwan said, her eyes welling with tears.
Kwan's sad tale is told over and over in a city where families are being torn apart by the chaos and social unrest. Few families want to talk about it or expose to others the pain they are feeling. It is said that "a family's shame should not be made public".
Last month, the city was left in shock by the report that an 18-year-old surnamed Tam had assaulted his mother because she disagreed with his opinions about the public disturbances and the now-withdrawn extradition bill that triggered the protests that turned the city to chaos.
Tam reportedly became furious, pulled his mother's hair and hit her head repeatedly, until his stepfather stepped in and put an end to the fray. He was bound over to Kwun Tong Magistrates' Courts and ordered to be on good behavior for one year.
Kwan believes the rage of many of Hong Kong's young people has been triggered by their sense of justice, but that their anger is unsophisticated and uninformed. She thinks young people have been easily manipulated and impetuous.
"I never expected he would have such a strong reaction to my views," Kwan said, adding that she didn't share her strongest opinion with her son－that she believes young people are being manipulated by opposition politicians.
Kwan has three sons, all of whom joined the anti-government demonstrations. She said they protested peacefully, but she concluded that her efforts to dissuade them might "pour gasoline on fire." She conceded she has difficulty curbing her temper when it comes to discussing the city's current difficulties, and that's when trouble begins.
"Now I've learned to skip the topic when talking with my kids. I hope the tension gradually eases, but I know the rifts between me and my sons will never be thoroughly healed," Kwan said.
Anger and negative feelings have swept over Hong Kong, especially among the city's young people, since the troubles began.
According to the Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups, from June 12 to August 24, its Wellness Mind Centre received 459 inquiries related to the social unrest. Among all cases, 10 percent of young people suffered emotional distress, leaving them at high risk of misadventure, including a tendency to self-harm, according to the center. About 40 percent of cases at the center were categorized as moderate emotional distress. Some expressed intense feelings that the future is bleak, after witnessing violent clashes and seeing people injured.
From mid-July to mid-August, the Post Crisis Counseling Network had 23 percent more inquiries than usual relating to Hong Kong juveniles. The network provides free psychological counseling for local people in distress. About 80 percent of those seeking counseling have been students opposed to the street protests and classroom boycotts, said Timothy To, a psychologist and chairman of the network.
These young people are under greater mental stress, he said, since they have to remain silent over their real thoughts, and some may face bullying at school.
The issue may get worse and more complicated with the start of the new school year, To added. "Negative emotions are more easily spread."
Schools and teachers in Hong Kong already have been swept up in the controversy as the new semester begins. Ng Yung-fai, the principal of Heung To Middle School (Tin Shui Wai), said the school sent letters to parents, reminding them to keep a close watch for emotional changes in their children and to reach out for help when they see them becoming severely distressed.
Difficult times also mean more physical and mental stress for teachers and school support staff, Ng said, adding that teachers also have to monitor students, watching out for "abnormal behavior". This means they have to spend extra time communicating with students and trying to steer them away from possible trouble, the principal said.
"All efforts are being made to avoid clashes or mishaps among our students," Ng said.
The increasing number of people suffering from mental distress not only creates negative impacts on individuals' social support networks, but also poses risks to the city's economy and long-term development, said To, the psychologist.
He said people should regularly review their own mental health and find professional help when they feel their anxiety is reaching a point of desperation.
Taking note of the growing rifts in many Hong Kong families, Daniel Shek Tan-lei, a psychologist specializing in youth development and family processes, said that even though people may have differing political opinions, it does not mean they should be enemies.
Shek, association vice-president of Hong Kong Polytechnic University, said conflicting views should not erode family love and affection, adding that family ties are much more important than differences over politics.
People need to maintain acceptance, respect and rationality when communicating with others, he said, advising that everyone, but especially young people, should avoid dwelling on violent incidents or being provoked by social media messages and reports.
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