Track Sessions II

D. Mental Wellness: 'Are cities doing enough to tackle the rise of mental health challenges?'


  • York CHOW Chief Medical Officer and Corporate Advisor, AIA Hong Kong and Macau
  • Joseph GONZALES-HEYDRICH Director of the Developmental Neuropsychiatry Clinic, Boston Children’s Hospital
  • Moitreyee SINHA CEO and Co-Founder, citiesRISE


  • CHIU Chi Yue Dean of Social Science, The Chinese University of Hong Kong

This session started with Professor Chiu Chi Yue explaining that mental health was an issue that affected the poor and the wealth equally.  Yet, even on this measure, Hong Kong performed poorly, as nearly one in three Hongkongers felt that their life was meaningless – the worst results in the countries and regions tracked. Dr York Chow agreed that mental health was an issue of concern in Hong Kong, noting that despite being a wealthy city, Hong Kong ranked only middling in terms of happiness, and struggled with a problem of youth suicide. 

The panellists agreed that this conversation should not focus on healthcare providers alone as many sectors and stakeholder types were involved in shaping the experiences of people suffering from mental illness.  Providing support for those with mental health issues was challenging as it was difficult to define what mental illness was and how to communicate the experience of living with mental health to others. In this sense, the arts represented an opportunity for helping those with mental health issues to communicate what they were going through to others.

Dr Moitreyee Sinha, head of citiesRISE, said the drivers of mental health issues were varied, ranging from the state of a person’s physical health to the type and quality of support to which an individual had access.  As such, creating a community that promoted better mental health required the integration, support and co-operation of a number of stakeholders. It was through this need to bring together many stakeholders that cities could serve as the unit of change for improving mental health. This might be difficult as many cities still viewed caring for those with mental health as a burden, rather than an opportunity to bring an improved livelihood to many people. 

To that end, Dr Sinha pointed out that communities should work to change the narrative around mental health and create a culture where mental health was accepted. Furthermore, they should not wait for the perfect solution. Instead, communities should act now as there were many simple proven approaches that could be adopted quickly, such as the creation of support structures for those with mental illnesses, including informal peer support.  To accelerate the impact of these interventions, communities should harness technology to help with tracking and caring for those with mental health issues. Lastly, she suggested investing early in supporting mental health.

Dr Chow stressed the role that work had to play in mental wellness. Many companies now took an interest in workplace wellness. He stressed the importance of creating a safe environment in the workplace for employees to share their struggles with mental health.

Dr Joseph Gonzales-Heydrich elaborated on what he saw as the unique role technology could play in promoting mental health. He said advances in data tracking allowed us to better follow an individual’s biological and environmental factors. The application of artificial intelligence, combined with our knowledge of the human genome, could now be leveraged to provide more precise and individualised support to those in need. This was especially true in cities, where more data tended to be collected.  That said, Professor Chiu noted while technology was important, it should not replace humans in providing mental health support, as individuals needed to feel connected to a community.  

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