03/10/2008, 00.00
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Prosperity increases depression and suicide among Chinese

According to official data, the economic boom has caused a rapid increase in depression and psychological problems. More and more people are asking for help from mental health institutions. Also under accusation is the one-child policy, which has created a generation of young people incapable of communicating.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) - The economic boom has caused a steep rise in depression and suicide in China: according to a 2007 report from the National People's Congress, at least 30 million people suffer from depression, and there are 23 suicides for every 100,000 persons. Suicide is the main cause of death for people between the ages of 15 and 34.

At the Shenyang Institute of Psychology (Liaoning), in 2002 alone there were as many requests for counselling as in the period from 1994 to 2001.  And between 2004 and 2006, the number of patients doubled each year.  According to official data, the number of psychiatric patients in Beijing has gone from 0.83 per thousand in 1993 to 33.1 per thousand in 2003.  In prosperous Zhejiang, the figure is 43 per thousand, and in Liaoning 60 per thousand.  But in the less developed Jiangxi, there are just 9.5 per thousand.  It is believed that the real numbers are much higher, in part because China has so far dedicated scarce attention to mental health, because it still needs to develop adequate basic medical structures.

Qun Manli, a researcher at the Shenyang Institute, tells the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun that "Society is becoming so competitive, making it harder and harder for people to get on, and that is causing more stress. This has raised people's awareness of the need to seek help when they can't cope anymore. Another factor is that families are now rich enough to pay the fees for consultations and treatment".

But the "patients" of the institute are not only adults under stress from their jobs: a growing number of young people are experiencing difficulties with school.  There are plans to increase the number of employees at the institute from 100 to 2,000, and to send at least one staff member to every elementary and middle school.  A 24-hour counselling "hotline" has already been set up.

Zhou Dongfeng, the deputy director of Peking University's Institute of Mental Health, includes the one-child policy among the causes of stress.  As a result of this policy, he says, "people's ability to communicate with others has dropped. That has helped trigger mental illness problems. Issues caused by the aging of society are also affecting the people. The incidence of depression among the elderly is higher than that of younger people, partly because more young couples are not living with their parents. As a result, more elderly people are living alone".

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