The Urban Epidemic: Stress in Hong Kong

Part I – High-pressure work culture

Stress is all too common in our lives, especially for those of us living the busy city life. The hectic Hong Kong lifestyle drains our time to cope with stress. According to the Census and Statistics Department, Hong Kong people work a massive 600 hours MORE per annum than other developed countries, with many working uncompensated overtime hours.

It’s no wonder Hong Kong is Asia’s stressed-out city.

The need for money in this expensive city, fierce workplace competition and social expectations about work and laziness often encourage many of us to stay silent over the large workloads handed to us. Work and familial responsibilities, time pressures and information overload also contribute to burden placed on Hong Kong’s work force. 

Unfortunately, this high-pressure work culture has transcended to our children and youth who are handed high academic expectations by teachers and parents from a young age. From a mental health and developmental perspective, the local education system needs to become laxer, to allow young children time to play, explore and socialize, rather than placing them on an academic production line.

Drawing from my own experiences, my two years in a local kindergarten was (personally) not ideal. We had homework every day, and regular assessments. School life was strictly regimented and hugely conformist. When I attended an international primary school afterwards, it was a complete turnaround: we played in the sand and water, did lots of art, show and tell, stories.

Two educational approaches: ordered and academically focused versus explorative and creative with less boundaries

Of course, back in the kindergarten we did have fun music classes and fun breaktimes. However, the educational approach was completely different, one was ordered and academically focused whilst the other was explorative and creative with less academic boundaries, with the former possibly stunting rather than enhancing myself. When this burdened young generation grows up, they are channeled into the same philosophy of work and achievement for years ahead, and may collect a buildup of so much stress that it becomes chronic, which affects the immune system and leads to many physical ailments.

Alice Pearce is a Final year Psychologist at Durham University. She wrote this because growing up in HK and studying in the UK has made her realise how big the gap is between Asia and the West in psychological and educational understanding.