Interview with volunteer: Eliza

Heart Healer – Eliza

Dr. Eliza CHEUNG, a clinical psychologist, has participated in both local, Mainland and overseas emergency and disaster preparedness projects. Her footprints have been left in Bhutan, Nepal, Singapore, Liberia, Sichuan, Yunnan, Hunan, Hainan, and Gansu for providing disaster psychological support, training and research. As early as in 2012, Eliza has assisted in HIA’s community participation programmes, which aimed at improving the mental and social health of refugees in Hong Kong.

Mental health is a basic human right

“I had visited mountain areas while I was still in high school, and witnessed a mentally-retarded child being chained by his family. When the other children were happily studying in school, he was chained like a puppy at home. I was shocked! By that time, I had an urge to understand more about mental health, and how to help those with mental health or developmental issues”, Eliza recalled the reason behind her choice as a clinical psychologist, “when I visited Hainan Island with Emily (Editor’s Note: Professor Chan Ying-yang Emily), I also saw a mother who locked her adult son in the bathroom of their home, just because her son has mental illness.”

Because of superstition, stigma or ignorance, those people who exhibit mental health problems are unable to get proper treatment in developing countries. Even some of them can receive treatments in hospital, they usually encounter very poor services. “Mental health promotion should not be just limited to developed countries, it should be a basic human right that all can enjoy”, Eliza said ambitiously.

Popularising psychological education

Many people think that the job of clinical psychologists is very simple, and they only have to chat with patients during treatments. Eliza emphasised that using the wrong methodologies could bring harm to patients! It requires formal training to conduct psychotherapy, and it also requires proper guidance and supervision during treatment. In reality, many healthcare professions only know how to deal with physical illness, but have very limited knowledge in mental illness. In such circumstances, how can we expect the public to possess such knowledge? Being a founder of Aware Mental Health Promotion Association, Eliza hopes to popularise psychological education in Hong Kong, so that the public can take care of their own mental health, and also assist those with mental disorders to seek proper treatments.

Our policy and community’s need to reform

The World Health Organisation predicts depression will surpass physical diseases, and become the top of “global burden of disease” in 2030. “Many people have advocated mental health over the past decade. There has been improvement in the general perception, but the public’s knowledge of the emotional and mental problems is still very inadequate. Similar to physical problems, early detection and treatment could lead to better results and would be easier to handle, and would consume less resources. It is ideal to put more resources in community service and community intervention, and put less resources in hospitalised treatments. This model could alleviate the financial burden of patients, and also improves the acceptability of mental health services. Unfortunately, the present system in Hong Kong is just the opposite, and more than 90% of the resources are put on hospital services. During my internship in public hospitals, I had to wait more than 6 months before I could see the same patient again after the first consultation. To be honest, the service was just like to check whether the patient is still alive, instead of providing any real treatment,” said Eliza with sorrow. Eliza mentioned “task shifting” is one of the workable solutions proposed by some international mental health scholars, this solution involves distributing some tasks of psychiatrists to the doctors, who have proper mental health training and guidance, in general outpatient clinics. These doctors could perform initial assessment and diagnosis, they could also handle minor cases and only refer more serious cases to psychiatrists.

HIA’s mental health projects 

HIA has already incorporated mental health programmes in its working poor projects. Other than mental health referral services, HIA will conduct four seminars in relation to emotional management. Besides, HIA will train some community volunteers on the knowledge of mental health first-aid, so that they would be able to assist in early identification of neighbours who have emotional or mental health issues. Other than endorsing our developments in working poor projects, Elisa also understands the urgent needs of the mental health services of the refugees in  Hong Kong. We hope to cooperate with Eliza again in the very near future!

Clinical psychologist Dr. Eliza Cheung
Clinical psychologist Dr. Eliza Cheung

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