Depression in a pandemic

ChinaZhang Xiaochun, an ultrasound doctor in Wuhan, is still immersed in depression even though Covid-19 has not infected the community for months.

In the spring, when a pandemic swept the city, Zhang chose to work while her father was seriously ill, and her little daughter was often alone at home. That made Zhang feel heartache and failure, both as a son and as a mother.

If this happened just a few years ago, Zhang would hide those feelings. Now, she openly admits she has psychological problems. “If humans can face a huge catastrophe, why don’t we dare talk about small things like mental health problems?”, She asked.

For Zhang, feelings of betrayal persisted, even though her sacrifices as a frontline doctor were praised by the media and the public. After that incident, Zhang’s parents treated her coldly.

Zhang is just one of the millions of Chinese people who have had mental health problems since the onset of the pandemic. Historically, mental illness has not been an easy problem to say. Until now, discrimination still exists, many mentally ill patients are shunned, locked up at home or in the long term in specialized facilities.

Another survey found that only 7% of patients with mental disorders seek help online, even though the government has established many websites and support hotlines.

There are too few high-quality training programs available to mental health professionals, Yu Lingna, a psychologist from China, based in Tokyo. Human resource training will take a long time. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), in 2017, the country had fewer than 9 psychiatrists for an average of 100,000 people.

“The good news is that more and more people are accepting psychological help,” said Du Mingjun, a psychologist in Wuhan.

Du was one of the first witnesses to the alarming state of a mental health problem during the pandemic. On January 23, when Wuhan was shut down, Du and colleagues at the Hubei Provincial Association of Psychologists launched a government-backed 24-hour hotline, placed newspaper ads and posted on WeChat, to reach the dreaded people.

Immediately, the switchboard was flooded with calls for support. One woman called because her parents were being treated in two different hospitals. Running back and forth between the two places in fear and fear made her stand on the brink of collapse. A man takes his temperature every 30 minutes, panicking with fear of getting sick. “At peak times, the hotline receives between 200 and 300 calls a day,” Du said.

A man in protective gear walks by the Yangtze River in Wuhan, China. Image: Reuters

As the epidemic progresses, calls subside and extend to other issues such as academic pressure or arguing, and domestic violence.

Across China, schools expand mental health counseling and encourage students to take time to relax. Ministry of Education warns about “post-epidemic syndrome”. The campaign has helped break mental health stereotypes, experts and students say. In Hebei province, officials produce cartoons to help students understand trauma.

Xiao Zelin, a student at Sun Yat-sen University, Guangzhou, said he was anxious and sleepless when he returned to school this fall. After months of being locked in the house, he struggled to adapt to the crowd. Xiao Zelin loses her appetite and is always tense in all situations.

Xiao never went to see a psychiatrist, spoke to a counselor provided by the university. He said the counselor helped him understand what he went through and advised him to be patient with himself. Xiao encourages her classmates to sign up for these meetings.

Wuhan medical staff bring a Covid-19 patient to the hospital, January 2020.  Photo: AFP

Wuhan medical staff bring a Covid-19 patient to the hospital, January 2020. Image: AFP

For Zhang Xiaochun, treatment was not working. Finally, she found other sources of comfort. She immersed herself in the works of Wang Yangming, a Ming-era philosopher. He wrote: “Getting a thief to live in the mountains is easy, but catching a thief from his heart is difficult”. After long nights struggling with depression, she chose to quit her job at the hospital in Wuhan, spending her time with her husband and children and friends. Zhang hopes that one day his parents will understand his decision.

Zhang said she is not the only frontline medical officer with a mental disorder. Many of her former colleagues are still grappling with uncured wounds from Covid-19. However, many of them are open-minded or seek a therapist.

“Any big crisis or event will leave some kind of pain,” she said. “There is nothing shameful about this”.

The unborn (According to the NY Times)


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