Sadness: an emotion that we all experience, yet for some reason we all feel the need to hide. No one ever wants to talk about not being okay — but why exactly is that? Do we assume that those closest to us would be burdened by a conversation about how we’re feeling? Have we all been persuaded to imagine a sigh of relief when our response to “how are you?” is “I’m good” or, even, it’s less convincing, relative “fine”? Or have we somehow collectively been convinced that not being okay is synonymous with being weak?
In the age of social media, we’ve created a culture of portraying life’s highlights as what our lives solely are. Our profiles allow us to perpetuate a self-image completely of our own making which, although can be fun, is rather damaging in the long-run. We go online and we’re bombarded with smiling faces in restaurants, on beaches, at parties, and we’re made to believe that it’s the norm. We’re stuck in this cycle where what we see online makes us think constant happiness is normal, which makes us hide any emotion that strays from that, which then feeds back into establishing the norm. I’m not saying we should abandon use of social media, but with over a third of people surveyed indicating that social media led to negative feelings, we need to remember that what is on social media is controlled completely by whoever is posting it. They are just that individual’s personal highlight reel, not reality.
According to the Royal Society for Public Health, 68% of young people support social media highlighting when a photo has been manipulated
More locally, it seems that people in Hong Kong have a particular aversion to discussing negative emotions. Having grown up in Hong Kong, a city filled with privilege, we are quick to sweep our negative feelings under the rug, assuring ourselves that because of the lives we are lucky enough to lead, we don’t have valid reasons to be sad. We grew up being told that there are starving children with only a sliver of what we have whenever we got upset, and now we assume that not being okay is taking our privilege for granted because there are people that have it worse. But sadness has been shown to be a universal emotion recognised in all corners of the world, so it seems rather ironic of us to not give it recognition in ourselves.
Not only do we have immense privilege in Hong Kong, we also have an equally prevalent competitive nature — be it in schools or in corporate offices. Because of this, we are quick to hide anything that could indicate weakness. But we have to ask ourselves why sadness is considered a weakness at all if it’s something that everyone goes through; classmates, co-workers, teachers, and bosses alike. There seems to be a ubiquitous belief here that expressing sadness becomes a trade for a severance package despite its natural occurrence in all humans. This fear of appearing weak seems to affect men in particular given gender stereotypes:
According to the Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention, the male rate of suicide was more than double that for females in Hong Kong
In our reluctance to share our feelings, we feed the monster that is mental illness stigma and inadvertently create obstacles for people to seek help with mental health problems, with the WHO reporting:
– 43.7% of people with depression not getting treatment
– 42.5% of people with generalised anxiety disorder not getting treatment
– 21.9% of people with alcohol abuse and dependence not getting treatment 
Instead of being scared of our feelings, we need to begin having honest conversations about them, recognising that it’s okay to not be okay both on an individual and cultural level. Mental health is a spectrum, not an absolute matter of healthy or unhealthy, meaning that everyone experiences poor mental health at some points. It’s important to look after ourselves and talking about our emotions is a great place to start.
This article is informative only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. For emergency contacts, please visit http://www.mind.org.hk/what-to-do-in-a-mental-health-emergency.