Understanding Mental Health

Workplace stress that sex workers face 

Getting up, freshening up, putting on makeup and getting dressed up for work, just like everyone else. Workplaces for sex workers ranges from streets, one-sex worker department, karaoke, foot massage, night clubs and hotels, etc. Although workplaces may vary, the concerns remain the same: fear of being arrested (undercover operation), personal safety (in case of troublesome guests), threats of privacy (snapshots, blackmailing of private photos), labelling from society (public judgements, fear of being discovered by family and friends) and sexual health (condoms being forcibly or discreetly removed), etc. Due to the social stigma of their occupation, sex workers often struggle to seek help or file complaints effectively, and have to bear with the unfair treatments and unforeseeable danger, and repeat such worrying working pattern on a routine basis.


Imagine if you were one of them, could you pull through in the long run? What are the potential consequences?

Health includes not just physical health but also mental health. According to WHO (Ref 1), mental health is a state of well-being,  through which individuals could recognise and perform their capabilities (e.g. mothers being capable of taking care of children), cope with various stresses in daily life, work efficiently and contribute towards the community.


Therefore, when working under stress chronically, an individual’s mental health tends to deteriorate, hence increasing the possibility of suffering from mental illness. Mental illness is a general term, and includes various disorders which could be further categorised by timespan(acute to chronic) and intensity (mild to severe). Everyone has the possibility of getting a mental illness. According to the Mental Health Review Report published by the Government in 2018 (Ref 2), one million people in Hong Kong are suffering from common mental issues, such as anxiety or depression. It is estimated that 2.5% of the population i.e. two hundred thousand people suffer from severe mental illness, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, serious depression, etc.


Apart from the working patterns, the identity, lifestyle habits, behaviour, financial status and emotions of the sex workers also influence mutually, some sex workers might even be discriminated against due to their identities as foreigners or immigrants. Sex workers might hence result in addictive behaviours, including gambling, drug abuse, alcohol abuse; some might suffer from insomnia; some might face immense financial pressure and struggle to afford own rent and meals. Consequently, they are prone to suffering from anxiety disorder, depression (some might face post-traumatic stress disorder after experiencing traumas) and bipolar disorder, or even have suicidal thoughts or adopted suicidal behaviours (Ref 3).



Ref 1 WorldHealth Organization

Ref 2 Food andHealth Bureau

Ref 3 BeattieTS et. Mental health problems among female sex workers in low- and middle-income countries: A systematic review and meta-analysis. PLoS Med. 2020Sep 15;17(9):e1003297.