Even in the best of times, Hong Kong has always been a pressure cooker. Now, what with the coronavirus pandemic and the unprecedented social unrest of last year resulting in the mass arrests of protesters and rioters, many of them underage, of course young people today are under great stress.

Three mental health services providers have warned of an alarming rise in the number of young people struggling with emotional distress and suicidal thoughts.

Facing school closures, home isolation, family and societal conflicts, and uncertainty about the future, who wouldn’t be distressed? Youths are responding in a perfectly understandable way: Hong Kong has become an extremely distressing place to live in.

Many mental health professionals have a tendency to make feelings of distress and depression undesirable and unwanted, so those seeking help ought to be rid of them.

I know; in my own personal life, I have sought plenty of professional help, not all of them helpful or professional.

Sometimes, you are right to feel distressed, because the situation really is terrible and threatening. And teens are precisely at the age range most vulnerable to developing mental health issues under stress.

The Samaritans, a suicide prevention charity, said more than 70 per cent of those using its email services were students, ranging from primary school to university level, adding the number of users reporting suicidal thoughts had doubled between June and September.

Coolminds, operated by Mind HK and the KELY Support Group, registered a 41 per cent rise in its user base between July and September. Open Up, a texting platform catering to those aged between 12 and 29, also said cases jumped by 28 per cent from February to September.

But the best support teens and young adults should get is from their own families and friends. Let’s face it, Hong Kong’s public psychiatric services are atrocious and private ones expensive and often exploitative.

Yet, our society has a low awareness of mental health, perhaps because of its traditional stigma. I myself was oblivious to the mental health problems I have had for years. It was only after intervention by a psychiatrist and a psychologist, along with the continuing use of a drug in the family of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIS), that I realised the extent of my problems. If I couldn’t help myself, I was useless to my children, or worse.

Beside boosting public services, we need to educate ill-informed teachers and parents. I was one of them.