The Cause of and Solution to Mental Diseases in China

October 17, 2006 Updated: October 6, 2018

Professor Zhou Dongfeng, President of the Chinese Society of Psychiatry, said in a speech on World Mental Health Day, that for Chinese Medical Association, at least 100 million people in China are suffering from various mental disorders, making mental illness the most common type of illness in China.

According to a report on October 3, 2006, carried by China News, Professor Zhou Dongfeng, President of Chinese Society of Psychiatry for Chinese Medical Association, delivered a speech in a seminar associated with World Mental Health Day in Beijing on Oct. 2, 2006. In his speech, Zhou said at least 100 million people in China are suffering from various forms of mental illness. Quoting numbers estimated by an epidemiological survey conducted in some areas of China, Zhou added that victims of mental disorders account for one fifth of the total patients in China; thus mental disorders rank first among all diseases.

When interviewed by The Epoch Times, Dr. Yang Jingduan, a psychiatrist specializing in psychological and behavioral medicine, said a multi-layered comprehensive treatment is needed to improve the mental health situation in China. On the level of social culture, the undesirable habits of apathy, jealousy, and interpersonal struggle embedded in the Party Culture must be discarded. Traditional Chinese virtue should be promoted to create an honest, tolerant, and mutually caring society.

On the level of professional management, education in medical ethics and training in professional norms must be reinforced for medical and health care professionals. In particular, the interference and abuse imposed by the political party or government on psychiatric therapeutics must be eliminated.

On the level of social politics, the general public should be rid of fear about the autocratic regime, and pursue freedom of belief and freedom of speech, so social morals and justice can be rehabilitated.

Dr. Yang Jingduan is an attending physician at the Jefferson-Myrna Brind Center for Integrative Medicine, Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia. He is also the chief editor for the China Mental Health Watch (CMHW) website. The following is an excerpt from his interview.

The Actual Number Is Much Higher

One hundred million is a very conservative figure, Dr. Yang told the interviewer. The actual number is much higher.

Mental disorders can be classified into two categories. The first category consists of the disorders such as schizophrenia and bipolar affective disorder, which originate from biological factors.

The second category is considered to be associated with the social environment and psychological development. Such mental diseases include personality disorders, anxiety disorders, depression, phobia, post-traumatic stress disorder syndrome, ill-adaptation complications, alcoholism, and drug abuse.

The incidence rate for category-one disorders is essentially a constant. It is seldom affected by the social environment. For instance, the incidence rate of schizophrenia is approximately one percent of the population.

In contrast, a lot of people suffer from category-two disorders, and the number of victims has kept increasing in recent years. Take depression as an example: depression affects about 15 percent of the general population. Women are more likely than men to experience a major depressive episode. Twenty-five percent of women suffer from depression annually. As a result, category-two disorders cause a tremendous impact in society even though their symptoms are relatively mild.

Conservatively speaking, at least 30 percent of China’s population, or roughly 400 million people, suffer from mental diseases in various degrees and forms. Owing to the deficiency in developing psychiatric education, there are very few psychiatrists in China. Quite often, patients with mental illness are not diagnosed with mental disorders because average doctors have little experience in this field.

A psychiatric hospital in Zhongshan City, Guangdong Province. (China Photos/Getty Images
A psychiatric hospital in Zhongshan City, Guangdong Province. (China Photos/Getty Images

Historical Background

It is reported that there are 20,000 psychiatrists in China. However, the number is far from enough in comparison with China’s population. The grassroots prevention and control system has yet to be established. Why is the situation so bad?

During the recent decades, the ideology of the Chinese communist regime has been rejecting a modern understanding of mental and psychogenic diseases.

On one hand, the regime regarded mental diseases as ideological and political issues; on the other hand, the regime also accused political dissidents and religious groups of psychosis and inflicted persecution upon them. Psychotics were forced to read Mao Zedong’s books and were treated as anti-revolutionists during the Cultural Revolution.

Now people who hold opinions, ideas and beliefs different from the central regime, such as political dissidents, appellants and Falun Gong practitioners, are forcibly sent to mental hospitals.

Due to the above-mentioned historical background, psychiatric education in China has fallen far behind. Doctors lack knowledge and understanding of mental illness, and this leads to frequent erroneous diagnoses. Moreover, there is a limited number of psychiatrists in China, and the quality of service they can provide, and the medical ethics they operate by, cannot meet the needs of society.

Pressure of Reality

According to an October 2 China News report, a survey on the prevalence of psychopathy, conducted by specialists from Hebei Province on 24,000 people aged 18 years and over in Handan, Baoding, Qinhuangdao and Chengde cities, showed 14.04 percent of the interviewees suffered from various forms of mental disorder. In terms of incidence rate, it was higher for females than for males, and higher for rural residents than for urban inhabitants. Combining all causes, the total percentage of mental retardation reached 1.68 percent.

Yang commented the statistical results of the survey in China were quite unique. The actual situation in Western countries is just opposite. Western psychiatrists cannot explain why because they have so little understanding about China’s national conditions.

A farmers’ life in China is extremely miserable. They have to shoulder a heavy burden and, as a result, their family disputes are tough to deal with. It is especially the case for rural women—not only do they need to take care of the family, they also have a heavy load of agricultural duties. They must endure high stress level throughout their lives.

In addition, there are a lack of doctors and medicine in rural villages. Unlike urban residents, who may make suicide attempts by taking large doses of prescription drugs, the suicide measures sought in rural villages, such as swallowing pesticide, throwing oneself into a well, or hanging oneself, are frequently lethal. The consequences are so serious that recovery is almost impossible. The scarcity of clinics in rural villages, and the lack of effective transportation make the emergency rescue even harder.

The aforementioned phenomena all have something to do with the general background of Chinese society. Most people who commit suicide are actually undiagnosed mental patients. Other suicide victims who could no longer endure mental stress include students, farmers, jobless laborers, and migrant workers.

Spiritual Emptiness and Lack of Beliefs

No matter how unfortunate or how poor one can be, he can always hold on as long as he has a spiritual prop. Without any spiritual support, a mental disorder can develop very easily.

Ever since the establishment of the Chinese communist regime, the most basic of all traditional beliefs, principles of words and deeds and human virtues of China have been discarded. Instead, the regime infused hypocritical communism into the people. In the beginning, Chinese people still had a spiritual prop because they were deceived by the regime under the special national conditions. However, they soon found out communism was completely absurd. There was nothing left when their spiritual underpinnings were destroyed.

However, freedom of belief was prohibited by the Chinese communist regime. Therefore, the whole society in China was completely empty and spiritually weak. If there is not strong belief, it is hard for people to hold on under pressure.

The CCP “kidnapped” the entire nation of China, and Chinese people now exhibit Stockholme Syndrome; the Chinese people identify with and protect their kidnappers.

Under such circumstances, material wealth becomes the sole target to pursue: money is everything and apathy prevails. Interpersonal relationships become very complicated. In a state without moral constraint, it is hard for a family to maintain itself. The ever-increasing divorce rate and the dismantling of the family are serious problems in China.

In Chinese society, family plays a very important role. It holds many things together and resolves a lot of issues. Whenever there are interpersonal problems or mental struggles, Chinese people approach their relatives and friends—not doctors. Now that the relationship with relatives and friends has become aloof and the family structure has been dismantled, the individual’s—and the society’s—mental strength becomes even weaker.

A Social Mental Disorder

Chinese society possesses a frequently unnoticed characteristic: Stockholm Syndrome. Although the syndrome is not treated as a mental illness, it is considered a “social” mental disorder in China.

The entire nation of China can be considered to have been “kidnapped” by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The civilians are controlled by violence, media propaganda, and economic threats. Under the circumstances that citizens’ lives are in constant jeopardy, there is not any sense of safety. As long as the CCP comes up with petty favors, Chinese people will feel deeply grateful—they don’t feel resentful against those who persecute or kidnap them; instead, they will hold favorable sentiments inexplicably. This unusual phenomenon can only be explained by social or group Stockholm syndrome. [ Editor’s Note: Stockholm Syndrome is the clinical term which describes a kidnapping victim increasingly identifying with his or her abductor. Because the victim feels powerless, and depends on the abductor for survival, the victim begins to support the kidnapper, and will go so far as to refuse to prosecute the kidnapper if released. ]

This phenomenon has a very significant influence on society in various aspects because it provides nourishment for the autocratic regime, which brings no benefit to the mental health of society.

It does not matter whether the issue is related to environment, medical care, education, or employment; Chinese people have little interest in looking into the nature of the problem. Why? Because a deeper analysis would reveal the fact existence of the communist regime is the true origin of the problem.

Out of fear, people have kept their mouths shut. By doing so, they also lose the opportunity to unleash their anger. Wittingly or unwittingly, people lose self-confidence and live in self-abandon, indulging in excessive drinking, drug abuse, gambling, etc. Another form of escape behavior is to make money relentlessly through collaboration with corrupt people.

Therefore, getting rid of the political pressure imposed by the autocratic regime, relieving Chinese people of long-term fear, and granting them the freedoms of expression and belief, become the keys to resolving the issue of mental health for the entire society.

Recently, it is said in China “The more the expressions, the more the peacefulness.” The statement makes a lot of sense. If people are allowed to tell what suffering they have kept in their hearts or what trauma they have experienced, it will be very beneficial to maintain their mental and physical health.