by MJ ONeill
June 6th, 2018

With nearly 50,000 Hong Kong families living with the debilitating effects of severe schizophrenia, professional body Hong Kong Association of Psychoanalysis Rehabilitation (HKAPR) enlisted Weber Shandwick to help lift the taboo on mental illness and drive vital changes in government healthcare policy.

Through a combination of exhaustive research and strategically targeted communications, HKAPR and Weber Shandwick Hong Kong’s work delivered unprecedented insight into the plight of affected families – directly resulting in the government devoting new resources to mental illness treatment.

Systemic Challenges

Throughout the developed world, mental illness carries a stigma that can lead to complications not only for those afflicted but their families and their carers. Hong Kong is no exception. While the city plays host to over 200,000 families impacted by mental illness, there are still multiple obstacles for anyone seeking treatment – especially the 49,000 Hong Kong citizens living with schizophrenia.

In terms of medication, less than 1% of those afflicted have typically received the most effective long-acting injections of second-generation anti-psychotics (LAI SGAs) treatment for schizophrenia. With a ratio of 1 case worker to approximately every 50 patients, there is a profound lack of resources for patients or carers in need of additional support. Through it all, those diagnosed with schizophrenia continue to live with a profound negative stigma.

In improving circumstances professional body like the Hong Kong Association of Psychoanalysis Rehabilitation (HKAPR) needed to address both the practical difficulties facing those directly impacted (lack of caseworkers, less effective medication) and combat the broader cultural attitudes that fuel stigma and prejudice.

Listen Carefully

To help lift the stigma around mental illness and foster greater support for those afflicted, HKAPR enlisted Weber Shandwick Hong Kong. Together, HKAPR and Weber Shandwick developed a strategy built on authentic, lived experiences; a campaign to encourage citizens to share their experiences of mental illness and showcase the vital need for increased support to critical stakeholders.

In collaboration with Weber Shandwick and local university, HKAPR conducted an unprecedented survey of primary caregivers for – listening to the stories of nearly 500 individuals. The resultant findings of the research represented a groundbreaking level of insight into the unique obstacles and complications faced by those directly impacted by mental illness in Hong Kong.

Covered by over 40 different news publications, HKAPR’s research helped drive schizophrenia, mental illness and the need for greater support into the popular conversation; with Weber Shandwick’s multifaceted campaign strategy ensuring the topic was kept alive throughout the city.

Break The Silence

Liaising with key lawmakers, Weber Shandwick Hong Kong helped facilitate multiple discussions during consultation periods for Hong Kong’s key policy addresses of 2017 and 2017/2018 budget. Concurrently, HKAPR collaborated with schizophrenia advocate, online video personality and professional stuntwoman Rachel Star Withers to speak to the public at large.

Leading a flash mob in downtown Hong Kong and co-hosting a viral online video with HKAPR to debunk five myths about schizophrenia, Withers brought a previously taboo topic into the larger public sphere. And, to further support people in discussing mental illness openly, HKAPR also developed a social platform where citizens could open up in a safe, respectful environment.

It Gets Better

In sharing the lived struggles of schizophrenia sufferers and their carers, HKAPR and Weber Shandwick helped foster genuine and lasting change for Hong Kong’s mental health community.

Almost exclusively through organic growth, HKAPR’s devoted social channel engaged over 20,000 Hong Kong citizens to help destigmatise mental illness in their city. In the wake of the campaign, the Hong Kong government committed to a 20% increase in mental health case workers – even committing to creating new clinical roles for the specific purpose of treating mental illness.

The Hong Kong government has since formed an Advisory Committee on Mental Health to ensure best practice in mental health treatment; with Professor Samson Tse of the HKAPR a sitting member of the committee. With support, guidance and more open conversations, Hong Kong is presently better equipped to provide support for mental illness patients and their carers than ever before.

Weber Shandwick’s work with HKAPR was later recognised at the 2018 PR Week Global Awards and PR Awards Asia– with the campaign Highly Commended in PR Week’s competitive Public Sector category and winning Bronze in PR Asia’s Public Affairs category.

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