Mental Health Resources for COVID-19 in China

China administers surveys to reveal mental health issues needing attention.

Posted May 04, 2020

Photo by Guido Hofmann on Unsplash
Source: Photo by Guido Hofmann on Unsplash

By Gabbie Froiland

The rapid spread of COVID-19 has instilled a mindset of fear all across the globe. China, where the virus started, is making great strides to eliminate the disease and is now looking into the other effects it causes, such as on mental health. Researcher Shuai Liu et al. in their article from The Lancet Psychiatry assert:

“Since January 2020, the National Health Commission of China have published several guideline documents, starting with the notification of principles for emergency psychological crisis intervention for the COVID-19 epidemic on January 26, then the notice on establishing psychological assistance hotlines for the epidemic on February 2, and most recently, guidelines for psychological assistance hotlines during the COVID-19 epidemic on February 7.”

When looking at the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) epidemic of 2003 in China, researchers saw that there was a lack of internet and smartphone availability. Because of this, there was limited opportunity for patrons to access online mental health resources. With this most recent outbreak of COVID-19, China’s effort to extend a helping hand in the mental health realm is tremendous. These researchers are making a great effort to use the development of technology to help those who are in need.

Researchers began to send out surveys starting on February 8th, 2020. They crafted 72 surveys through the platform, WeChat. The surveys were directed at multiple people groups including medical staff, patients with COVID-19, students, the general population, mixed populations, those in Hubei province, other provinces in China, municipalities, and autonomous regions. One of the surveys was sent to Nanfang Medical Center, which included 1563 medical staff. As the surveys came back, the results display that 50.7 percent suffer from depression, 44.7 percent struggle with anxiety, 36.1 percent with insomnia, and 73.4 percent dealing with stress-related symptoms. All of these questions were based on a 1 to 10 scale. The percentage who said to be depressed or anxious all defined their symptoms as a five or greater. The percentage who said they have insomnia all said their symptoms are an 8 or higher. And finally, the percentage who said they have stress-related symptoms all said their symptoms were a 9 or higher.

Since these surveys were administered, WeChat has worked hard to come out with numerous online resources and counseling options, which are available 24/7. They have also shared their psychological self-help intervention systems with medical institutions, universities, and other organizations, including services like online cognitive behavioral therapy. The programs can even flag individuals who are at risk for suicide so that volunteers can tend to the needs of these individuals. Researchers also claim:

“In general, online mental health services being used for the COVID-19 epidemic are facilitating the development of Chinese public emergency interventions, and eventually could improve the quality and effectiveness of emergency interventions.”

The work of these researchers is outstanding and may even change the direction of how we think about mental health during and after an incident. It points out that everyone has different reactions to a tragedy like COVID-19. There is not a specific answer to how to treat someone who has been through a traumatic time, but there is a way to start the conversation of healing, and I think China is taking steps in the right direction.

China’s ability to recognize the need for mental health resources during a global outbreak of a disease is outstanding. I recognize that China is now looking to be on the other side of COVID-19, but it is remarkable how relatively quickly they were able to recognize mental health as an essential need. This raises the question: When is the U.S. going to start focusing on the mental health outcomes due to COVID-19? Though there are numerous ways to still meet with a therapist over video chat, I pose the question: When and how are we going to reach out to those who are struggling with mental illness because of COVID-19?

Gabbie Froiland is an accelerated M.A. student at the Humanitarian Disaster Institute at Wheaton College (IL). She will obtain her B.S. in Applied Health Science in May of 2020 and is on track to receive her M.A. in Humanitarian and Disaster Leadership in May of 2021.

References

Liu, S., Yang, L., Zhang, C., Xiang, Y.-T., Liu, Z., Hu, S., & Zhang, B. (2020). Online mental health services in China during the COVID-19 outbreak. The Lancet Psychiatry, 7(4), e17–e18. https://doi.org/10.1016/S2215-0366(20)30077-8