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Hidden pains of society


Before she tried to kill herself by jumping from her dormitory building a year ago, no one knew Xing Hua (name changed for privacy), a 22-year-old economics postgraduate from Wuhan, was suffering from depression. She narrowly escaped death, but suffered severe internal injuries and multiple broken bones.

“I was in great pain,” said Xing. “Only depression victims could understand the despair – a desperation so great that life itself seems not to matter any more.”

This year, the World Mental Health Day on Oct 10 was marked by the theme: “Depression: A Global Crisis”. According to the World Federation for Mental Health and the WHO, depression has moved beyond the medical domain to become a social problem.

Statistics from the Beijing Suicide Research and Prevention Center show that of the 287,000 people who commit suicide in China every year, 70 percent are victims of depression.

“This equates to one depression victim taking their life every three minutes,” cited CCTV recently.

According to the Beijing-based Capital Medical University, the number of depression patients has been on the rise in the past years and now accounts for 5 to 10 percent of the population, more than the global average of 5 percent.

Wang Shaoli, vice-president of Beijing Huilongguan Hospital, a medical center specializing in mental health, said that what makes depression so widespread is that everybody can get it.

“No one is immune to depression,” said Wang. “It has become a social problem because depression kills one’s social capabilities, such as communication, and leads to a negative social mentality.”

According to Wang, depression can be treated with medicine and early psychological consultation. The real problem is the lack of awareness surrounding the issue.

“People with mental health illnesses are discriminated against,” said Wang. “So they are reluctant to go to hospital and often keep the pain to themselves, which only makes matters worse.”

Only one in 10 depression victims are properly treated in China, according to the Beijing Suicide Research and Prevention Center.

Social cost

While depression brings great tragedy to individuals and their families, the social cost are considerable too.

According to a report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in 2008, depression is one of the most costly mental disorders because of the large number of persons affected and the significant impact it has on the labor force.

“The associated cost of depression is more than 118 billion euros (958 billion yuan) in the European Union,” read the report. “Equivalent to 1 percent of regional GDP.”

Wang Gang, director of the Depression Treatment Center at the Beijing-based Anding Hospital, said that depression is triggered by multiple factors, from genetic heritage to cognitive experience.

“When people get depressed, it becomes part of their thoughts, making them negative, even desperate,” said Wang. “And embedded ideas are difficult to change.”

That’s why Wang suggests early intervention.

“Normally it takes about nine months to treat depression,” said Wang. “But in most cases, patients drop treatment half way when they feel some progress.”

After a year of treatment, Xing is getting better. Although she is sometimes easily distracted from conversation, she is confident.

“It is a relief that people know I had depression,” said Xing. “The more I talk and interact with people, the less I feel the stress.”