21 October 2019

Online Survey by CUHK Department of Psychology Reflects
Nearly 40% of Respondents Experienced Depression-related Symptoms amid the Anti-ELAB Incident

The Motivation and Emotion Laboratory of the Department of Psychology, The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), has conducted an online survey study titled “Emotional Well-being and Political Engagement” from 18 to 29 September 20191, with regard to the demonstrations associated with the Anti-Extradition Law Amendment Bill movement (Anti-ELAB). The result shows that nearly 40% of the respondents have reportedly experienced depression-related symptoms in the past two weeks.  The respondents have polarised emotional reactions towards different social groups. The tendency to dehumanise others is also common.

The research team distributed the online survey link via various means (including Telegram groups, Facebook pages, online news commentaries)during the survey period. A total of 1,937 responses were collected, in which 1,037 (53.5%) of them were valid. The team used Patient Health Questionnaire-2 (PHQ-2) to assess respondents’ psychological well-being. The result shows that 38% of the respondents were troubled by depression-related problems, including “feeling depressed” and “having little interest in doing things”. This figure is much higher than the rate of suspected depression (9.1%) cases in Hong Kong reported by another similar survey in July 20192

Polarised Emotional Reactions Among the Respondents

The research also shows that the respondents had polarised emotional reactions towards different social groups. On average, respondents who supported Anti-ELAB demonstrations and opposed the police’s law enforcement behaviour (anti-ELAB supporters) held moderate to strong positive emotions (pride, gratitude) towards “peaceful, rational, and non-violent” (PRN) and “frontline” protestors3 but strong negative emotions (shame, anger) towards the Hong Kong Police Force (HKPF), Hong Kong Government, and pro-establishment activists4. On the other hand, respondents who supported the police’s law enforcement behaviour and opposed anti-ELAB demonstrations (police supporters) held moderate to strong negative emotions towards “frontline” protestors but moderate to strong positive emotions towards the HKPF. Regardless of political stances, the stronger the emotional reactions the respondent had, the more political activities (e.g., petition, parade or assembly) the respondent engaged in, and the more psychological health problems the respondent experienced.

The phenomenon of emotional polarisation can also be reflected in how much sympathy the respondents had towards different social groups. Over 60% of anti-ELAB supporters reported having “no sympathy at all” towards the HKPF, Hong Kong Government, and pro-establishment activists. Meanwhile, over 60% of police supporters reported having “no sympathy at all” towards “PRN” and “frontline” protestors. This study has also investigated the phenomenon of respondents dehumanising different social groups. For the question “Do you think (social groups) should be treated as animals (e.g. cockroaches, dogs) (from 0 - 10),” only 21.6% of respondents answered “absolutely should not” for all social groups. In other words, nearly 80% of respondents have some degree of dehumanisation tendency towards at least one of the social groups. 

Professor Helene Fung Hoi-lam, Chairperson of the Department of Psychology of CUHK, who led this online survey, said, “In view of the recent social movement, we recommend the general public to be aware of the psychological well-being of themselves and that of their family members and friends. Professional and reliable mental health services should be sought5 if symptoms including depressive moods, losing interests in doing things, sleep and appetite disruption are felt often. In addition, if any individuals observe that they are having strong emotional reactions towards certain social groups, they can regulate their emotion by some means, such as taking a break from receiving information about those groups.” 

The final sample was weighted by age, gender and education level based on the 2016 Population By-census data. Estimated by a sample size of 1,037, the sampling error is +/- 3.04% (95% confidence interval).


1 Data collection was completed prior to the large-scale clashes in Hong Kong on 1st October and the announcement of the Prohibition on Face Covering Regulation by the Hong Kong Government on 4th October. Thus, the results do not reflect the impact of these social events on respondents’ emotional health.

2 The relevant survey was conducted by the School of Public Health, LKS Faculty of Medicine of The University of Hong Kong. It used Patient Health Questionnaire-9 (PHQ-9) to assess depressive symptoms. The assessment tool used in this study (PHQ-2) is a shortened version of PHQ-9.

PHQ-9 and PHQ-2 are assessment tools of depressive symptoms. Both cannot be used to diagnose whether the respondents have major depressive disorder. Individuals who score 3 or above (from 0 - 6) should seek professional diagnosis on their psychological health conditions (Gilbody, Richards, Brealey, & Hweitt, 2007).

3 “Peaceful, rational, and non-violent protestors” refers to people who insist on using peaceful, rational, and non-violent means (e.g., parade and assembly, posting slogans) to voice their opinions in anti-ELAB-related demonstrations. “Frontline protestors” refers to people who use comparatively radical means (e.g., setting up roadblocks, physically clashing with law enforcers) to voice their opinions in anti-ELAB-related demonstrations.

4 “Pro-establishment activists” refers to people who are discontented with demonstrations related to the anti-ELAB movement and perform counter-protest behaviour (e.g., attending assemblies in support of the police, deterring protestors from posting slogans). 

5 The Division of Counselling Psychology, Hong Kong Psychological Society provides psychological support services with regards to recent social events. For details, please visit: http://www.dcop.hkps.org.hk/index.php/2019/09/01/psy-support3rd/         

The Suicide Prevention Services provides 24-hour suicide prevention hotline services (Tel: 2382 0000) and Youth Link hotline services (Tel: 2382 0777).




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