Lockdown: Effective Strategy or Bane in Disguise
As a result of the lockdown, demand for counselling services has increased, revealing a dearth of mental health care that predates the pandemic.
Hu Bojun, the clinical psychologist with a US education has received numerous questions regarding her and her hospital's counselling services since the lockdown due to Covid began in Shanghai. This month, she started leading lockdown support groups in both English and Chinese for individuals of all age groups. She mentioned that people from all socioeconomic backgrounds are now attending counselling together, a lot more Chinese have begun talking about their mental stress and loneliness at this time of extreme uncertainty, and she added that a lot of her old clients have been coming back, and she started dealing with a lot more new clients as well. In China, where lockdown restricted more than 400 million people to lead their normal lives, mental health support is increasingly in high demand. Since March, Baidu, a Chinese search engine, has seen a massive increase in searches for "psychological counselling”. Even though Covid has dominated the headlines in recent years, mental illness is another issue affecting millions of Chinese families. According to the WHO, China has 54 million people who suffer from depression and 41 million who suffer from anxiety disorders making them two of the most common mental illnesses there.
As China's population ages, mental health difficulties are becoming more prevalent. Senior citizens tend to become lonely when their children leave for big cities in the pursuit of their dreams. Researchers discovered a significant link between the suicide incidence of elderly people and companionship, in a 2021 study. They discovered that during the annual lunar New Year when they experience high levels of family contact, the incidence drops by 8.7%. Loneliness and isolation afflict young people as well. According to recent studies, during the pandemic, more Chinese middle school students experienced insomnia, depression, and anxiety. A large-scale Chinese poll conducted in 2020 indicated that about 35% of respondents had experienced psychological distress during the peak of the pandemic. Yet, according to Li Yue, a 20-year-old university student in Luoyang, central China mental health was not a commonly discussed problem until recently, and those who suffered from mental illness were frequently misunderstood or stigmatized. Li's family was perplexed and stumbled to respond when she was diagnosed with severe depression in 2018 as they weren’t familiar with mental illness terms. She mentioned that for a long time, her parents assumed that she was thinking too much. They supported her decision to seek treatment at times and opposed it at other times. She also added that she was completely lost at first and she began to feel desperate. She recalled being unaware of what needed to be done for a long time.
In China, several popular culture performances dealing with mental illness were screened last year. There was Next to Normal, a Broadway production that enabled conversations about bipolar disorder. The musical tour stopped and performed in Shanghai, Beijing, and Guangzhou. The tour was also accompanied by a documentary. Then, a few months later, Psychologist, a 40-episode TV series, spurred a discussion on mental health. Several art shows were also organized in China in 2021, which focused on raising the mental health awareness of the public. A collection of abstract art at the No 600 Gallery in Shanghai that featured works by mentally ill patients went viral. It was covered by state-run news outlets, and an associated hashtag was viewed more than 70 million times on social media. Some enterprises have also taken advantage of the situation. Hu claims that some of her acquaintances have started offering online training classes to individuals interested in becoming therapists. They also employ mobile apps to connect those seeking aid with therapists over the internet. She explained that there are many instructors to assist with cultural demands even in smaller cities. Despite this increased awareness, infrastructure and resources continue to be a challenge. When Li was in the hospital, she said she observed a lot of patients but not enough doctors. Her story echoes the findings of a 2017 WHO survey, which indicated that China had less than 9 mental health experts per 100,000 people. To address the issue, the government has taken several initiatives. Beijing highlighted the growing prevalence of mental health concerns in China in its state-wide Healthy China program, which began in 2019, and vowed to give treatment to at least 80% of patients suffering from depression by 2030.
For Li and her family, the diagnosis 4 years ago was a watershed moment. Li's life has slowly but surely begun to get back on track after years of treatment and counselling. She mentioned that it transformed her perspective on things and herself. She is currently pursuing a psychology degree at university.