Professor Daniel Lai is Chair Professor and Dean of Faculty of Social Sciences in the Hong Kong Baptist University. He was the former Director of Institute of Active Ageing and Head of Department of Applied Social Sciences in The Hong Kong Polytechnic University. Before returning to Hong Kong in 2015, he was Professor and Associate Dean (Research & Partnerships) in the Faculty of Social Work of The University of Calgary in Canada. Professor Lai’s research expertise includes health and wellness, aging, culture and immigration, community mental health, and outcome evaluation. Professor Lai serves on the Board of Directors of the American Society on Aging. He is Vice-President of the Hong Kong Association of Gerontology. He also sits on the Training, Research & Development Committee of the New Life Psychiatric Rehabilitation Association.
Experience of exposure to social and political unrest and wellbeing of older people in Hong Kong
Daniel. W. L. Lai, Hong Kong Baptist University, Hong Kong, China
Elsie. C.W. Yan, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, China
Emma H.S. Liu, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, China
Vincent W.P. Lee, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, China
Gloria H.Y. Wong, The University of Hong Kong, China
Jessica J. Li, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, China
The social unrest in Hong Kong in 2019 has affected different aspects of private and public lives. There has only been limited study of the psychological impact of social and political movements, not to mention the impact on older people. As older people constitute a growing population in Hong Kong, it is important to understand the ways in which the social unrest has impacted their mental health and their coping strategies.
Sixty-three participants participated in qualitative telephone interviews. There were 33 male participants and 30 female participants. Participants were aged between 60 and 80. The interview guide drew on the McGill Illness Narrative Interview Protocol, covering topics related to the social unrest, including disruptions experienced, coping strategies, interpretation and perspectives towards the social unrest, and views on future development. Each interview lasted for about 45 minutes to one hour.
Participants experienced different types of challenges during the social unrest, including disturbance to family and social life, reduced incomes which affect quality of life, and difficulties in socializing with friends and accessing medical services. In addition, not only did older people experience challenges to access to public services, but they also encountered family conflicts in the private sphere.
The findings show that older people faced arguments and quarrels with younger people and that the intergenerational relationships were affected as both sides avoided sharing about their political views. The social unrest caused emotional disturbance to many participants, giving rise to feelings of panic, fear, insomnia, depression, annoyance, anger, and emotional roller-coaster. In the face of these challenges, some participants adopted a more passive approach to avoiding conflicts by avoiding discussions with their younger family members, while some also expressed that they actively engaging in other activities, such as meeting friends and attending activities in order to avoid watching news about the unrest. These findings show that older people should not be generalized as ‘weak’ or ‘powerless’. Instead, they are able to handle disruptions and challenges.
As one of the first studies to provide empirical evidence of the impact of social unrest on older people, findings show that they were affected by the social unrest incidents and the associated disruptions caused. The impacts have extended to difficulties in family relationship, social life, and access to medical services. These findings have important implications for healthcare service and policy. Education and government measures are needed to enhance intergenerational relationships and communication within families, particularly the communication and mutual understanding between the government and the various intergenerational age cohorts on various social and political issues. While some older people were able to develop coping strategies, different stakeholders’ awareness of the problem and mental health promotion are required to alleviate the negative impacts.