Awareness of the mood disorder known as depression is growing in China, where the number of people suffering from this condition is on the rise due to socioeconomic pressures related to work and family.
Thirty-three-year-old Chang Feng’s panic attacks began when he was in middle school, and this lasted until he entered college. In college, he attempted suicide, but dared not go through with it due to the grief his parents would suffer if he died. When he realized that his state of mind and actions were taking a toll on his parent’s wellbeing, he took it on himself to turn his situation around.
In 2007, he finished the last of his anti-depressant drugs. What helped him to stop medicating his disorder was his realization that those around him loved him deeply.
“I came to realize that my parents were very loving and my fellow students and teachers cared deeply about me and my situation.”
Chang Feng does not like to use the word “recovery” to describe his situation. He admitted he had to learn to live with depression. Eventually, he founded a self-help group called “The Sunshine Project” to assist others suffering from depression. He noted: “Across China, more and more of these types of self-help groups are forming.”
During group meetings, participants talk openly with each other about their personal situations. One participant, Zhou Yu, described the meetings and activities:
“Everything is on the table; depression, finances, family, job, stress. People introduce themselves and their individual situation to ensure that everyone has a chance to speak. I freely expound my thoughts and feelings to others. We also engage in social activities together such as dinner, singing, and jogging.”
Another member of the support group, Qiu Jing, spent three years in and out of psychological counseling. She described her experiences with the group:
“Here, I can speak openly about people and situations without any fear. Everybody gives you encouragement and this type of help is difficult to get, even from my own relatives and friends.”
Dr. Wang Ning, Deputy Director of the Department of Emotional Disorders at Beijing’s Huilongguan Hospital, noted: “Patients suffering from depression need true friends, a loving home, and a relaxing environment. They need to feel valued.”
Last year, the hospital formed an emotional disorder self-help group. The group provided a channel for patients to share their feelings with those who had similar experiences. Other groups have since formed, including a family members group that provides mutual support for patients and their families, and a weight loss group.
In the hospital’s Emotional Disorder Clinic, there are only about 10 doctors on duty to treat patients with depression and related disorders. Dr. Ning and her colleagues face a considerable workload due to the lack of medical personnel relative to the number of patients seeking treatment. This has caused some patients to turn to the Internet for help.
The number of Internet-based self-help groups is also on the rise in China. Zhang Ze is an administrator of such a group. He managed an online group with some 400 members who have a tendency toward or have been diagnosed with depression. The group’s online meetings provide basic and routine support to help members achieve some sort of stability in their lives.
Translated by Aizhu Lu.