Seeking Help for Mental Health Problems in Hong Kong: The Role of Family

  • Juan ChenEmail author
  • Duoduo Xu
  • Xiaogang Wu
Original Article


Family members, rather than mental health professionals, are often the first responders for emotional or mental problems, particularly in Chinese societies where family is regarded as the primary care unit. Using data from the third wave of a representative sample of Chinese adults in the Hong Kong Panel Study of Social Dynamics, we investigate how family, and particularly family functioning, is associated with individual mental health help seeking and perceived barriers to professional service use, and how the associations vary across different generations of immigrants and between individuals with high versus low psychological distress. Our results demonstrate that family is still the primary source of help sought for mental health problems. Stronger family functioning is particularly significant for second-generation immigrants when they consider seeking help from immediate family members. Seeking professional help is uncommon, and stronger family functioning is associated with a lower probability of seeking help from general health professionals and alternative services. A well-functioning family is related to certain structural and cultural barriers to seeking professional help, yet trust in professional mental health services does not diminish along with stronger family functioning, even among the high psychological distress subgroup. The findings indicate that family can facilitate mental illness prevention and service integration. It is recommended that appropriate family support and services be incorporated into mental health treatment according to clients’ differential family circumstances.


Mental health Help seeking Family Barriers Service integration HKPSSD 



The first three waves of The Hong Kong Panel Study of Social Dynamics (HKPSSD) were funded by the RGC-CPU Strategic Public Policy Research Scheme (HKUST6001-SPPR-08) and the General Research Fund (646411, 15400414) from the Research Grants Council of Hong Kong. The data collection was implemented by the HKUST Center for Applied Social and Economic Research (CASER). The research undertaken for this article was mainly supported by the General Research Fund (15400414). A supplemental fund from the Collaborative Research Fund (C6011-16G) was used in the revision of the manuscript.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

None. The funders had no role in study design, data collection, data analysis, data interpretation, or manuscript preparation.

Ethical Approval

Approvals for the ethical review of research projects involving human subjects were granted to the authors by their home universities. All procedures performed in this study involving human participants were in accordance with the Ethical Standards of the Institutional and/or National Research Committee and with the 1964 Helsinki Declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Applied Social SciencesThe Hong Kong Polytechnic UniversityKowloonHong Kong SAR, China
  2. 2.Division of Social Science, Institute for Advanced StudyThe Hong Kong University of Science and TechnologyKowloonHong Kong SAR, China
  3. 3.Division of Social Science, Center for Applied Social and Economic Research (CASER)The Hong Kong University of Science and TechnologyKowloonHong Kong SAR, China

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