When I covered a recent open house of a local hospital in Beijing, I got to talk with a physical therapist about injuries and office ergonomics. During our conversation, he shared with the media group that one of his expat patients in Singapore struggled with depression. The businessman, the therapist said, had an injury somewhere needed treatment. He worked for a big multinational company and lived an affluent lifestyle, living in a grandiose flat and owning a race car. But all of a sudden, his life went into a standstill as he was a casualty of his company’s retrenchment.
The businessman continued treatment despite having lost his job. As the therapist recalled, his patient completely changed within the span of a few weeks, first coming to the hospital smartly dressed but later on becoming lethargic to the point that he almost cut off all communication. The therapist said he felt so concerned that he went beyond his role and asked how his patient was. He learned his patient was fine though living in a horrible situation.
A few weeks ago, the death of a controversial artist also caused a stir in China’s arts scene, just as his works of art once did. Twenty-nine-year-old artist Ren Hang was found dead, with one report saying he committed suicide by jumping off a building.
Back home, I remember a story about a teenage guy who committed suicide. The reason? Authorities and the victim’s family said the student couldn’t take the pressure of school and social expectations.
These three stories are all about depression. It can happen to anyone. Even to those who have the clearest and most optimistic of minds can experience it.
Dr. Julia Ma, a psychologist at Sanfine International Hospital calls depression a “dark time” and “a state of low mood… it affects someone’s behavior, feelings, and thoughts.” Many incidents can induce depression, such as life events (e.g. death of a loved one, unemployment, stress, or natural disaster among others), illnesses, side effects of medication, or substance abuse. She adds that a number of people with depression have strong suicidal tendencies.
“Since it is often difficult for a person suffering from depression to get through the ‘dark time’ all by him/herself, I strongly recommend family members and friends take the person to a psychiatrist for a diagnosis and treatment if necessary,” Ma advises.
I talked to Xiaojie Qin, founder and executive director of CandleX, an organization and support group for people struggling with depression in Beijing. She said CandleX’s website and WeChat subscription account contain a wealth of resources and stories about depression. There, I found out that Qin herself had battled depression after a relationship breakdown. But she found the courage to ask herself about the situation she’d been going through. That realization made an impact and changed her perspective on life.
Introspection is something that’s very difficult to do, especially when someone is so preoccupied with the busyness and hustle of daily life. If that itself is a challenge for people suffering from depression, is it even more challenging to talk to someone about what they are feeling?
According to Qin, it’s important to listen to and have a healthy discussion with people suffering from depression. Qin encourages them to also write stories to deflect their low mood to other activities.
In a recent review (see infographic below), Qin said that among 30 percent of participants with depression were foreigners of different professions and nationalities. She said the top reason why expats in Beijing experience depression is linked to high turnover rate in their careers, or what I call an “expat shelf life.”
According to Qin, what’s interesting is that there are international students who struggle with depression because of peer pressure and high expectations (the same reason as the story I shared), and that awareness in schools about student depression is very limited. I asked her from what age you might be at risk of suffering from a debilitating depression. She replied that young kids between the ages of junior high school and just prior to entering college are susceptible to depression as they have probably achieved enough understanding and awareness of what’s happening in their daily lives.
For that reason, Qin, through CandleX, is actively advocating more mental health programs for young people at schools and educational institutions. Letting young students and adults know that someone is listening is an important way of telling them that their problem is not only theirs to bear alone.
There’s still some struggle in that part, a blog post on CandleX WeChat account explained. Knowing the right moment and right people with whom to talk about depression is one consideration, while what to say and how to talk about what they are experiencing is another. (For more discussion about it, search the organization on WeChat by typing in “CandleX.”) While I’m no psychologist, I believe that each case is unique and methods of dealing with depression vary from person to person. It may be affected by various medications, how patients tend to cope with reality, or even how people close by can support them. It’s a very fluid topic but the fact is there’s hope. Remember the first story I mentioned in the beginning of this post? According to the therapist, the businessman has restarted his treatment and is now going through the “long” process towards recovery.
Just recently, the World Health Organization posted a video documentary on its YouTube channel (VPN needed), in time for the celebration of World Health Day with a theme about depression.