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China’s population suffered more severe mental health problems than other nations during pandemic

The Chinese population has faced more serious mental health problems than other countries during the Covid pandemic due to the government’s draconian lockdowns and unpredictable restrictions, a study finds.

While anxiety and depression have increased by 25 percent worldwide since the start of the pandemic, that figure is much higher in China, where millions of people have been under strict lockdowns for months, studies suggest.

A national survey of the psychological effects of the pandemic in China found that 35 percent of 52,000 respondents had a number of mental health problems – including panic disorder, anxiety and depression – as a result of the unprecedented quarantine measures.

China is sticking to its strict ‘zero Covid’ approach that limits travel, tests entire cities and sets up sprawling facilities to try to isolate every infected person. Lockdowns start with buildings and neighborhoods, but become the entire city as the virus spreads widely.

While the strict approach has reduced the number of cases, the heavy-handed measures have caused ‘collective psychological trauma’. The measures have also sparked anger and even rare protests against the government.

Yu Lingna, a Chinese psychologist and founder of Tokyo-based Yingxintang, a psychological counseling service for people affected by the pandemic, told the South Morning China Post that people are ‘fearful or angry’.

People try to break out of the quarantine fence during the protest, amid another round of Covid-19 lockdowns, in Shanghai, China, on June 6.

People try to break out of the quarantine fence during the protest, amid another round of Covid-19 lockdowns, in Shanghai, China, on June 6.

A person takes a swab at a COVID-19 testing site on June 14 in Beijing, China

A person takes a swab at a COVID-19 testing site on June 14 in Beijing, China

“When will all this end?” is a common cry,’ she said.

Yu added: “In the last wave of this year, many Chinese, especially young people and those without underlying diseases, have expressed little concern about the coronavirus. However, fear and panic still prevail.

“They are concerned about a shortage of basic necessities, living conditions in makeshift quarantine hospitals, children quarantined alone, pets abandoned after owners are sent to quarantine sites, and financial pressures from falling incomes.”

For those living in Shanghai, where officials imposed a two-month citywide lockdown that was lifted on June 1, the impact has been severe — with many residents on the brink of depression.

A survey of more than 1,000 Shanghai residents conducted in April found that 40 percent of respondents felt depressed about two weeks after the city’s lockdown.

Yu said many Shanghai residents had developed “covid fatigue” after the two-month lockdown.

She said many people she had mentored were disillusioned with social distancing and strict lockdown measures – and some are now concerned about their economic prospects.

“The pandemic has changed the lives and work of many people, creating a collective psychological trauma that must be assimilated.”

The rigid and widely derided restrictions have led to shortages of food and medical aid, along with a broader – though likely temporary – impact on the national economy.

A boy looks through a quarantine barrier in Shanghai, China on June 21

A boy looks through a quarantine barrier in Shanghai, China on June 21

Workers spray disinfectant on colleagues on June 4 in front of a residential area under a Covid-19 lockdown in Shanghai's Huangpu district

Workers spray disinfectant on colleagues on June 4 in front of a residential area under a Covid-19 lockdown in Shanghai’s Huangpu district

The Lancet magazine highlighted the human costs of China’s zero-covid policy in an editorial published earlier this month.

“These costs will be paid in the future, with the shadow of mental health problems that will adversely affect China’s culture and economy for years to come,” it said.

“The Chinese government must act immediately if it is to heal the wound its extreme policies have inflicted on the Chinese people.”

Desperate, outraged citizens have confronted authorities on barricades and online, yelling out their windows and banging on pots and pans as a sign of frustration and anger.

Some have turned to blockchain technology to protect videos, photos and artwork surrounding the subject from deletion.

Communist authorities who do not tolerate dissent have tried to delete such protests from the internet, blaming the protests, including the banging of cookware, on agitation by unidentified “foreign anti-Chinese forces.”

In Beijing, officials in March to May introduced curbs to stop the spread of the Omicron wave — including a ban on dining in restaurants. The ban was lifted in most parts of the city on June 7.

Zhou Na, 36, said she was so afraid of losing her job as a waitress at a Beijing restaurant that she had a hard time sleeping.

“I begged my manager to arrange a few shifts for me so that I can start my family,” she told the newspaper.

‘Consumers are coming back, but the number is less than before. My employer announced a layoff plan because he said the company was making a loss.”

For those struggling with poor mental health in China, they may not be able to access services because psychiatry and mental health services have traditionally been marginalized in the country — meaning limited resources are available.

According to WHO data, there are only 8.90 Chinese mental health workers per 100,000 inhabitants – compared to 20.6 in upper-middle-income countries.

A health worker wears a protective suit as she gives a nucleic acid test to a woman at a testing site outside a community that has been locked down due to a recent outbreak, in Beijing on June 21

A health worker wears a protective suit as she gives a nucleic acid test to a woman at a testing site outside a community that has been locked down due to a recent outbreak, in Beijing on June 21

A woman talks to a friend in quarantine through a fence amid another round of lockdowns, in Shanghai, China on June 4.

A woman talks to a friend in quarantine through a fence amid another round of lockdowns, in Shanghai, China on June 4.

Meanwhile, from June 29, Shanghai will gradually resume dining at restaurants in low-risk areas and areas without any community-level spread of COVID-19 during the previous week, a Shanghai government official said Sunday.

The Chinese economic hub lifted a two-month citywide lockdown on June 1, but many establishments have been unable to offer indoor meals since mid-March.

Shanghai reported no new locally transmitted cases – symptomatic or asymptomatic – for June 24 and June 25.

In Beijing, officials said it would allow primary and secondary schools to resume in-person classes and Shanghai’s top party chief declared victory over Covid-19 after the city reported zero new local cases for the first time in two months.

Beijing closed its schools in early May, asking students to switch to online learning amid a spike in locally transmitted COVID cases. The senior students of secondary and secondary schools were allowed to return to the classrooms from June 2.

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