Reports: One in Four Chinese Youths at Risk of Mental Illness, 60% Want to Be ‘Influencers’

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Radio Free Asia (RFA) on Tuesday reported troubling news on the state of mental health in China. Even the Communist regime’s official statistics show a quarter of the young population at risk from depression and mental illness, coupled with one of the developed world’s lowest ratios of psychiatrists to population.

The Chinese government cannot be trusted to report accurately on anything that makes it look bad, as the rest of the world should have learned during the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic, so the spread of mental illness among young people is probably even worse than the statistics RFA cited:

China currently has just under two psychiatrists per 100,000 head of population, compared with a developed world average of just over nine, according to the World Health Organization, while a 2021 study by Beijing-based researchers published in The Lancet found that just 9.5% of patients with depression in China receive medical treatment.

Faced with a weakening economy after three years of stringent pandemic restrictions, skyrocketing unemployment and life under a high-tech authoritarian regime, China’s 18-24 year-olds were found to have a 24.1% risk of depression in a government mental health survey completed last year, compared with an overall risk of 10.6% for adults generally.

Standardized testing carried out by government researchers for the 2021-2022 China National Mental Health Survey also showed a similar rise in reported symptoms of anxiety in the same age group.

RFA was able to talk with some Chinese students, most of them with dissident political leanings, who pointed to the declining economy and high rates of youth unemployment as major causes of stress, anxiety, and depression. 

The Financial Times (FT) coincidentally looked at the grave career prospects for Chinese youth on Monday and wrote of a generation “left behind” by a job crisis exacerbated by the slowing pandemic recovery and Communist Party crackdowns on the tech industry.

China’s economy is still creating a lot of jobs, but they tend to demand very long hours with low pay and poor working conditions – a far cry from the booming high-tech economy students were expecting when they labored over advanced degrees.

“We estimate that the problem of youth unemployment may continue for 10 years in the future and continue to worsen in the short term. If handled improperly, it will lead to further social issues outside the economic field and even become the trigger for political issues,” said a report from the China Macroeconomy Forum quoted by FT.

FT found young Chinese workers disenchanted with dictator Xi Jinping, who often speaks of his own purportedly hardscrabble upbringing and tells them to “ask for hardship” – in other words, to suck it up and quit complaining. The city of Chengdu erected a statue of a smiling panda holding a sign that says “Happiness Comes from Arduous Work.” None of this is going over very well with young people who took on enormous debt to obtain advanced university degrees that suddenly seem useless.

Of course, being a political dissident in a brutal authoritarian nation is a source of additional stress. RFA’s sources, who had to remain anonymous for their own protection, spoke about the intense frustration of living under an iron-fisted regime they can never change, or even complain about. They frequently invoked suffocation, drowning, and choking as metaphors for how they felt.

One young woman spoke of almost throwing herself off a building after struggling in vain to convince her mother that her civil-rights activism was heartfelt and worthwhile. She was saved only by a timely tackle from her boyfriend.

Other activists labeled this phenomenon “political depression” and spoke of how isolated dissident Chinese youth can feel, as they are justifiably afraid of sharing their thoughts with others or speaking out in public. Most of the young people who talked to RFA had stories about being kept under surveillance, ratted out by classmates they confided in, or being detained by campus or state security services.

Young people can’t even get therapy for their feelings of depression, because China averages only two psychiatrists per 100,000 residents. Only an estimated 9.5 percent of people suffering from depression are able to receive treatment.

Young Chinese women face additional pressures, from patriarchal office politics to outright sexual harassment, and they understand that bringing accusations against powerful members of the Chinese Communist Party is extremely dangerous

Almost two years later, the story of the “chained woman” of Xuzhou looms large in the minds of young women as an example of the abuse they might face, which makes them nervous about finding solace in a long-term relationship or marriage. The accelerating demographic crisis caused by low marriage and birth rates adds fresh anxieties about growing older in a bankrupt, childless world.

“Let me put it this way: Not a single person I know has told me they’re happy. Everyone’s dreams have been shattered these last three years. Everyone feels like they’ve hit rock bottom,” a thirty-something Shanghai resident told RFA.

One possible path out of these doldrums glitters in the imaginations of many Chinese youngsters: becoming a wealthy social media influencer. According to a survey cited by the state-run Global Times on Monday, over 60 percent of young people said they wanted to seek their fame and fortune as influencers.

“Some netizens attributed the result to the intense competition in the current employment market, but, from a broader perspective, analysts said it reflects the open mind of and diversification trend among youngsters compared to older generations when looking for jobs,” the Global Times wrote, whistling past a very large graveyard.

The Chinese Communist newspaper clearly felt uncomfortable discussing a survey that found the grandchildren of Chairman Mao’s grim and bloody revolution, raised on a steady diet of Xi “Ask for Hardship” Jinping’s writings about “socialism with Chinese characteristics,” would want nothing more than to strike it rich quickly on the Internet by cranking out funny videos and advertising for consumer products.

“The dividend of the industry is declining after the rapid development in previous years and the industry has now entered a transitional period from chaos to regulated management. Youngsters need rational thinking and long-term planning before entering the industry at this time. They also need to enhance their various abilities when working in the industry in order to seek better development in the future,” the Global Times lectured.


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