The Lancet Regional Health - Western Pacific, Volume 40, November 2023,
Background: Hong Kong is among the many populations that has experienced the combined impacts of social unrest and the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite concerns about further deteriorations in youth mental health globally, few epidemiological studies have been conducted to examine the prevalence and correlates of major depressive episode (MDE) and other major psychiatric disorders across periods of population-level changes using diagnostic interviews. Methods: We conducted a territory-wide household-based epidemiological study from 2019 to 2022 targeting young people aged 15–24 years. MDE, generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder (PD), and bipolar disorder (BD) were assessed using the Composite International Diagnostic Interview–Screening Scales in 3340 young people. Psychotic disorders were assessed by experienced psychiatrists according to the DSM. Help-seeking patterns were also explored. Findings: 16.6% had any mental disorder (13.7% 12-month MDE, 2.3% BD, 2.1% GAD, 1.0% PD, 0.6% psychotic disorder). The prevalence of MDE increased from 13.2% during period 1 (May 2019–June 2020) to 18.1% during period 2 (July–December 2020), followed by 14.0% during period 3 (January–June 2021) and 13.2% during period 4 (July 2021–June 2022). Different stressors uniquely contributed to MDE across periods: social unrest-related stressors during period 1, COVID-19 stressors during period 2, and personal stressors during periods 3–4. Lower resilience, loneliness, frequent nightmares, and childhood adversity were consistently associated with MDE. Compared to other conditions, those with MDE showed the lowest service utilisation rate (16.7%). Perceiving services to “cost too much” and “talked to friends or relatives instead” were among the major reasons for not seeking help. MDE was also significantly associated with poorer functioning and health-related quality of life. Interpretation: MDE can be sensitive to population-level changes, although its persistently elevated prevalence across the study period is of concern. Efforts to mitigate their impacts on youth mental health alongside personal risk factors are needed. Further work is required to increase the availability and acceptability of youth-targeted mental health services. Funding: Food and Health Bureau (HKSAR Government).