Mental Health in China – a personal case

This continues a series we’ve been reading on physical disabilities and mental handicaps.

In China only a tiny amount of funding goes into mental health, even though it is estimated that roughly 1.5% of the population suffer from serious mental illnesses (that’s nearly 15 million people). In the past few years there have been a growing number of reports of violence caused by underlying mental problems, which included a spate of attacks on kindergartens last year. China also has one of the highest suicide rates in the world, exact numbers are very hard to come by. One fact that is not disputed though is that China is the only country in the world where more women commit suicide than men. Perhaps the most shocking statistic is that there are only an estimated 4,000 academically trained psychiatrists practicing in the entire country. (facts from here and here)

The problems facing the country as a whole are clear, but you read this blog to understand china at a personal level. So today I will be sharing a story that is a bit difficult for me to tell.

One night I received a phone call from a female student who was incredibly distraught. Both myself, and my teaching partner spent close to an hour talking with her on the phone that night in an effort to calm her down. She didn’t want to live anymore, but could not tell us why. All we knew at this time was that it had something to do with her breaking up with her boyfriend.

These break ups are much more serious in China than what I have witnessed in the States. Here boys are encouraged to date around a little, but if a girl has had more than 2 or 3 boyfriends it can be considered fairly scandalous. At my previous school a girl had thrown herself into the river because she couldn’t handle Valentine’s day after her boyfriend left her.

We tried to get her to talk with one of her female teachers, or the school “nurse”. Those efforts were unsuccessful, so for the next month we took turns answering her phone calls and listening to her sob.

Finally though she decided that she was ready to tell us what had happened. One night she had been out with her boyfriend and his friend, and they were all drinking (they were only 17).  Her boyfriend was called home, and she was left there with his friend. That night he raped her. If that wasn’t awful enough, he told her that if she didn’t continue to have sex with him, he would tell her boyfriend that she had seduced him.

In China (and other Asian cultures) women are often so socially powerless that in situations like this it feels impossible for them to escape. He had targeted her weakness, and she knew if her boyfriend found out, her parents would too, and they would no longer love her (this is partially just the emotions of a 17 year-old girl, not everything is China’s fault).

After being blackmailed for sex by this boy three or four more times, she realized that she was pregnant. As a young unmarried woman, her only choice as she saw it was to have an abortion. She knew that this was a common procedure, and one that she shouldn’t feel bad about, since that was what the advertisements on the bus told her (they do actually advertise abortions on the bus).

She went to the cheapest clinic she could find. She told me about a month after it had happened that she knew that she was going to be a mother, but that they “cut out the baby”. There had been complications from the procedure as well, and she was told that she would be infertile.

In China this amounted to an unforgivable sin for a daughter to commit. Not only had she had sex with a man before marriage, but she wouldn’t even be able to give her future husband a son. This was a fact that was all too clear to her, and it made her want to give up.

Luckily, she was strong enough to reach out for help, and receive support from her two foreign teachers and her closest friends. Thousands of others have no net to catch them in moments like these.

The pressure on students here is unimaginable for those of us who grew up in Western countries. There is a test to get into a good high school, at the end of high school there is a test that entirely determines which college you will get into. A poor result on the test you take in middle school affects whether you will spend the rest of your life in a factory, or have a chance to escape China’s working class.

After they finish college there is pressure to get married, buy an apartment and a car, have a son, support your parents in their retirement… Unless China starts training mental health care professionals now, the problems are only going to get worse.

16 responses to “Mental Health in China – a personal case”

  1. […] 中国见红– 中国的精神健康问题:我的亲身经历——中国学生面临着巨大压力,他们需要精神健康方面的专业人士提供帮助 […]

  2. Ander says:

    Yes, it was very fortunate she was strong enough to reach out to her teachers and seek help through them. I’ve been seeing a dreadful number of students who don’t, or can’t, get the help they need at home and must rely on their teachers for guidance.

  3. Meryl Mackay aka 马美丽 says:

    According to the reference you provided above, the World Health Organisation estimates that mental illness will increase in prominence to account for 17.4% of all illness in China by 2020 (3% higher than in 2001).
    The above story you relate is so sad. The duplicity of the rapist is despicable. I just hope that the young woman is not infertile as there is always hope, unless they performed a hysterectomy on her.
    I suppose there are no sex education classes held in Chinese schools? Everything is geared to passing the gao kao but this leaves young people deficient in other life skills. Young women are often passive in outlook which makes Mao’s quotation that they hold up half of the sky, frankly risible.

  4. Someone thinks this story is fantastic…

    This story was submitted to Hao Hao Report – a collection of China’s best stories and blog posts. If you like this story, be sure to go vote for it….

  5. […] 原文:Mental Health in China – a personal case 作者:Tom(@seeingredchina)发表:2011年6月24日本文由“译者”志愿者翻译并校对 【图:中国处处可见的人流广告让女孩们觉得流产不是什么大问题,而青春期男女的精神压力无处倾诉。图片为译者志愿编辑所加】 中国虽然有约1.5%的人口(约1500万人)患有严重的精神疾病,但用于精神治疗的经费却少得可怜。在过去几年里,经鉴定由于潜在的精神问题导致的犯罪事件的数字呈上升趋势,如去年一系列的幼儿园暴力案件。中国的自杀者比例在世界范围内也排在前列,确切的数字无法查证。但有一个不争的事实,即中国是唯一一个女性自杀比例高于男性的国家。也许最令人震惊的统计数据是,据估计,在中国,受过正规教育培训的精神病从业医生在全国仅有4000名。(出处是这里和这里) […]

  6. […] Health in China – a personal case( 作者:Tom(twitter id: @seeingredchina) 发表:2011年6月24日 […]

  7. Megan says:

    My student jumping into the river over Valentine’s Day was one of the most difficult things I’ve had to deal with. Definitely compounded by the fact that the school tried very hard to deny that it happened.

    • Tom says:

      and the students never mentioned it after that. In Longzhou, a few years before I arrived at the school, the foreign teachers found out about a suicide from their students during a class. Suicides are far too often covered up instead of dealt with…like most problems in China.

    • Tom says:

      It might be a small comfort to know this post has been appearing on Chinese forums, and has generated a lot of discussion around what should be done to support these people who are contemplating suicide.

      • Westlake says:

        I agree with you that Chinese people are taking too much stress in their life, comparing to other countries with similar level of development, saying GDP per capita. The government sucks too much from these poor people and put scarcely efforts to make them feel safer and securer.

  8. Tim Corbin says:

    This is a powerful post Tom.

  9. […] Mental health in China – a personal case […]

  10. menganmuyun says:

    A powerful post. I graduated from China’s education system 2 years ago. Except exam, I merely learnt what is karma from school, until I hit something bad and restarted to think what really happened and discovered karma. Morality taught seems useless in China, unless it let people know they did something and it would cause something worse.

  11. […] planning; I had assumed most people were aware of the practice, and as I’ve discussed before abortions aren’t usually seen as a moral choice. While most of these would be considered “voluntary,” if there were no policy, these […]

  12. […] don’t try to push the matter, lest I come off as hateful. But there are also some people who, as Tom wrote once, will be more candid with foreigners, using them as a sort of release valve, or secret diary (oh, […]

  13. Valerija says:

    I can??t seriously help but appreciate your blog site, your site is adorable and good

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