Why China has a murderous epidemic…

25 05 2010

I always say that when someone loses a leg, it is not the physical loss of that limb, but the mental repercussions that devastate the patient.  My counselor told me that it is not what happens to us, but what our reaction is, that makes all the difference.  When we have a physical health issue (like an ear infection), we go see a doctor to help us feel better.  Why is it that we cannot do the same to help us deal with the death of a family member or relationship trouble or bullying?  Why do we have this notion that when it comes to these issues, we should be able to deal with them ourselves?  Why do we think that relying on others to deal with these personal problems makes us weak?  It is pure strength and courage to know when to ask for help and act on it in the face of all the stigmatization.

Since March, a murderous epidemic (five fatal attacks on school children) has erupted all over China and factory workers have been taking their own lives ceaselessly (the tenth one this year, at just one company, died yesterday).  It takes my breath away to know that mental health is still stigmatized in so many Asian countries.  Even in Hong Kong, going to see a psychiatrist means you must be crazy.  It forces individuals to repress their negative thoughts and their uncontrollable feelings of prejudice or anger or injustice or grief until it’s too late and those individuals behead their neighbours on a Greyhound bus, murder innocent children, or commit suicide.  

My dad is a businessman and thus describes the situation as China being a gigantic market for mental health treatment waiting to be tapped.  With the limited amount of entertainment families can afford, a general lack of understanding of how and why to value parent-child relationships, an overabundance of corrupt and/or abusive authority figures, and the public secret that every married man will have at least one mistress, there is a lot of tension and stress that builds up within every family and every individual.  Without the proper outlet for release, without a framework of education in terms of why every single person wrestles with mental health issues, no one will notice or dare to point out any signs and symptoms of mental health problems in others or themselves until lives are lost and it is much too late.  How can we afford to wait until then?

We need to do better.  This situation needs to change, in China and everywhere else.




3 responses

25 05 2010

You raised some good points about the neglect and stigmatisation of mental illness in China. Two articles from The Lancet recently examined this issue: feel free to have a read through this and this.

Not long ago, I had a discussion with a friend about the same topic. Why are middle-aged men killing children in schools and kindergartens? The media often examines the issue of mental illness in China and how the country lacks an effective support system, which I agree with. However, sometimes I like to look “upstream” and examine the causes from a more sociological perspective.

Perhaps the increasing inequity between the extremely wealthy and desperately poor have contributed to a widening gap between the haves and have-nots (e.g., coastal versus central China, city people versus migrant workers)? Perhaps rapid economic development has distorted the distribution of power in society and played a role in kindling injustice and anger (e.g., forced eviction and demolition of homes, highly corrupt government officials)? Perhaps mental illness is not merely the cause of the murderous epidemic; perhaps it is the symptom of a well-maintained, powerful dam that suffers multiple cracks and leakages.

Will email you a few articles shortly.

26 05 2010
10 11 2010

A recent article on the poor state of mental healthcare in China, why it is this way…and the consequences. @NYTimes http://nyti.ms/bUdchC

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