‘I felt like I was crying inside’: China’s COVID suppression hit young people’s mental health

HONG KONG, Aug 30 (Reuters) – Zhang Meng got injured last December. The 20-year-old found herself sobbing on the steps of her dorm. A university campus in Beijing has been forced into repeated lockdowns by her COVID, driving her into despair.

The lockdown had mostly confined her to her room and prevented her from seeing her friends. There were also strict restrictions on when she could visit the cafeteria or take a shower. Ms. Zhang describes herself as someone who craves face-to-face social interaction, saying that her restrictions have caused her to “remove the safety net that was holding me back, and make her my entire existence.” I felt like I was falling,” he said.

That month she was diagnosed with major depression and anxiety.

Register now for free, unlimited access to Reuters.com

Yao, also 20, asked not to be named, but after experiencing her first setback in high school as a boarding student, she didn’t understand why lockdown policies were so strict. One day he had to take refuge in the school bathroom.

In early 2021, while studying at a university in Beijing, Yao, frustrated at not being able to shake off his depression and failing to take the courses he wanted for fear of upsetting his father, committed suicide. I tried.

Determined to eradicate all COVID outbreaks, China has adopted some of the world’s toughest and most frequent lockdown measures, which it claims will save lives and reduce pandemic deaths so far. It points out that the number of people with disabilities is low at about 5,200.

It’s an effort that shows little sign of abandonment, but the impact of the policy on mental health has alarmed medical professionals, and as Zhang and Yao’s experience shows, it’s already taking a toll. increase.

“China’s lockdown, together with the shadow of mental illness that will adversely affect China’s culture and economy for years to come, has resulted in enormous human losses,” said the British medical journal The Lancet in June. the editorial claims.

In particular, experts are concerned about the mental health of teenagers and young adults. These young people are vulnerable due to their age and lack of control over their lives, and have to contend with much greater educational stress and economic pressure than previous generations.

The number of young people affected can be enormous. In 2020, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology estimated that about 220 million Chinese children and adolescents will be under confinement for an extended period of time due to COVID-19 restrictions.

children under pressure

The suppression of COVID can push young people into extreme situations.

For example, during Shanghai’s severe two-month lockdown this year, some young people aged 15 to 18 had to quarantine alone in hotels because they were not allowed to go home.

“It was really very difficult because they had to cook for themselves and they had no one to talk to,” Frank Feng, vice-principal at Lacton, an international school in Shanghai, told Reuters. rice field.

Data looking at the mental health of young people in China and the impact of the lockdown and pandemic are scarce but grim.

According to a survey of 39,751 students conducted in April 2020, about 20% of middle and high school students in China studying remotely during lockdown have experienced suicidal thoughts, and in January It was published in the American magazine Current Psychology. Suicidal ideation is sometimes described as when a person thinks they would be better off dead, but may not be suicidal at the time.

Across age groups, searches for “psychological counseling” on Chinese search engine Baidu more than tripled in the first seven months of 2022 compared to the same period last year.

For many teens, the COVID lockdown comes at a time of critical testing. If the stigma of being infected isn’t enough, they are desperate to get COVID or, more generally, be considered close contacts and not take life-changing tests Because of this, many families are isolated months before the exam period, teachers said.

Compounding the academic pressure is a dire job prospect. The overall unemployment rate is he at 5.4%, but the urban youth unemployment rate has soared to 19.9%, reaching a record high. This is because the pandemic and the regulatory crackdown on the technology and tutoring sector have led to a decline in corporate hiring.

We are also aware that due to China’s one-child policy from 1980 to 2015, most students are only children and will need to support their parents in the future.

According to a Fudan University survey of about 4,500 young people this year, about 70% expressed varying degrees of anxiety.

The pandemic and lockdowns have also created intense pressure to succeed in life, epitomized by the so-called “lying down” movement, which gained significant social media traction in China last year, as many young people embraced the idea of ​​”lying down.” are believed to contribute to dissatisfaction with The bare minimum to overcome.

20 years of tolls?

The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology has launched a number of measures to improve the mental health of students during the pandemic. This includes the introduction of mandatory mental health classes in colleges and efforts to increase the number of school counselors, therapists and psychiatrists in the country.

However, mental health has only been in the spotlight in China for the past 20 years, and the Ministry of Education’s efforts to place counselors in schools are relatively new. Most schools didn’t have it last year. Guidelines issued in June 2021 call for a ratio of at least one her counselor for every 4,000 students nationwide.

State media also picked up the topic.

A June 6 article in the China Daily, which focused on the mental health impact of COVID suppression on vulnerable groups, including teenagers, noted that COVID’s “mental health impacts could last 20 years or more.” ,” quotes Dr. Lu Lin, director of Peking University No. 6 Hospital. .

Data from early 2020 showed that a third of home quarantined residents had experienced symptoms such as depression, anxiety and insomnia, he said.

Lu estimates that most people will recover once the outbreak is over, but he believes 10% will never fully return to normal, with teenage patients becoming addicted to gaming and having trouble sleeping. I had a problem, lay on my stomach, and didn’t want to go outside.

For Zhang, the lockdown and subsequent depression have completely shattered her worldview. After being satisfied with her plans to study Chinese and literature, she becomes disillusioned with how the lockdown has been managed, increasing her interest in studying abroad.

“When I graduated from high school, I was pretty patriotic … This feeling is slowly fading. It’s not that I don’t trust the government anymore, the smell of masks and sanitizer penetrates deep into my bones.” I feel like I did.”

Register now for free, unlimited access to Reuters.com

Reported by Farah Master from Hong Kong and Xiaoyu Yin from Beijing. Additional reporting by Casey Hall from Shanghai and Kiki Lo from Hong Kong. Editing by Edwina Gibbs

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *