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As social protests increase rapidly worldwide, concerns are growing about their impacts on mental health. This study investigates the effects of the Occupy Central movement, a large-scale nonviolent protest, on mental distress among Hong Kong adults. Based on the analysis of data from three waves of the Hong Kong Panel Study of Social Dynamics (HKPSSD) collected before and after the movement in 2014, we show that participation in the Occupy Central movement significantly reduced the mental distress of Hong Kong people. The effect tends to be greater for young adults than the general population. These results suggest that a peaceful protest could offer a “safety valve” function that allows people to voice their demands and release their resentment. The study sheds light on challenges facing the governments when evaluating and addressing public mental health crises related to social movements in the contemporary world.
Xiaogang Wu is Yufeng Global Professor of Social Science, the founding Director of Center for Applied Social and Economic Research (CASER) at NYU Shanghai, and Professor of Sociology at New York University. He taught at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) for 18 years, during which he established the first household panel study in Hong Kong from 2011-2021, and co-led the Shanghai Urban Neighborhood Survey (SUNS) at Shanghai University. His research interests include Chinese society, education, inequality and social stratification, survey and quantitative methods. He published "Social Consequences of Homeownership: Evidence from the Home Ownership Scheme in Hong Kong" in Social Forces (with Jia Miao, forthcoming).