- A Chinese Psychology Society survey found that 42.6% of Chinese citizens tested positive for having anxiety related to the epidemic.
- Despite efforts by the Chinese government to battle the inevitable hysteria around the pandemic, the country may not be equipped to handle a mental health crisis.
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As China's healthcare system strains to battle the coronavirus epidemic, the country may have yet another health crisis on its hands: deteriorating mental health.
A recent Chinese Psychology Society survey found that 42.6% of 18,000 Chinese citizens tested positive for having anxiety related to the coronavirus epidemic, Reuters reported . Of 14,000 evaluated for depression, researchers discovered that 16.6% of individuals may be dealing with moderate to severe depression.
On Chinese social media platform Weibo, a hashtag that translates to #howtodealwithfeelingveryanxiousathome was trending with more than 290 million views, NBC News reported.
Empty grocery store shelves, streets that look like ghost towns, overflowing hospitals, and millions sequestered at home paint a picture of at least 16 cities quarantined near the center of the outbreak .
Those who do dare to venture outside their homes could be faced with mandatory temperature checks and sprayed with disinfectant before entering buildings. Misinformation is also stoking fears about the spread of the coronavirus online.
Chinese citizens don't want to leave their homes
Although the transportation bans, strict quarantine measures, and lockdowns were implemented by the Chinese government in hopes of curbing the spread of the disease, it has left Chinese citizens afraid and anxious to leave their homes.
Zheng Nanru, a Chinese college student that has been stuck in her hometown of Wuhan told NBC News that Wuhan has been quiet since the city went on lockdown on January 23.
"People aren't really coming out. I rarely see people walking outside in the compound," Zheng told NBC News. "If we do have to go out, when we come back to the compound, the security guards will spray us with disinfectant from head to toe before we enter."
The anxiety is even more acute for those at the center of the coronavirus outbreak, who have been on lockdown for weeks on end.
"For a lot of people, a day or two in isolation may be OK, but weeks without getting out of the house the stress will certainly build-up," Paul Yin, a psychologist who is helping insurance companies spread information on how to cope mentally with the outbreak, told NBC News. "Every day you are being reminded that life is not normal, constantly, you can't escape you can't pretend that it's not there."
Mental health services are overwhelmed
In the wake of the outbreak, China's National Health Commission has deployed a variety of mental health services to battle the hysteria caused by the disease, which is now known as COVID-19.
The government agency provided guidelines for local authorities to promote psychological crisis intervention and started telephone- and online-based counseling services. In-person counseling sessions are difficult due to quarantine measures, according to a state media agency .
Psychological support groups have been set up on QQ, a popular social media platform, by Chinese universities. A public account on WeChat called KnowYourself opened a green channel for frontline healthcare workers, patients and family members with members of its psychological team chatting with individuals to help reduce panic attacks.
Meanwhile, at least 300 24-hour mental health support hotlines run by university psychology departments, counseling services, and NGOs have been launched since the outbreak.
The hotlines have been inundated with calls from frightened and anxious Chinese citizens who are hunkered down in their homes and afraid of catching the disease.
"They leave messages saying they're exhausted, that they're scared," Cui Erjing, a Seattle-based volunteer for one of the hotlines, told Reuters. "The doctors don't know if they're going to get infected or if their co-workers or going to get infected, and they don't know how bad it's spreading."
One Shanghai-based psychologist told Reuters that one caller who lived with chronic depression reported suicidal thoughts due to the "barrage of bad news."
The novel coronavirus has swept the globe infecting more than 79,000 , igniting mass hysteria in its wake. As of February 24, the death toll reached 2,626 with all but 33 deaths reported in mainland China. Despite the various measures deployed by the Chinese government, the country may not be equipped to battle the psychological fallout of the coronavirus, where mental health continues to be shrouded in stigma and is largely taboo.
According to World Health Organization data , China had only 2.2 psychiatrists available for every 100,000 people country which has just 2.2 psychiatrists available for every 100,000 people. The country's mental health services are seriously lacking with only 122,309 mental health professionals to serve a population of 1.386 billion.
Volunteers have even offered to step in to help to counsel anxiety-ridden citizens, but mental health professionals worry they may do more harm than good without the proper training, according to Reuters.
In addition to lacking mental health services, stigmas around mental health prevent Chinese citizens from seeking help. A 2016 study found that less than 6% of people with anxiety and depression, substance use disorders, dementia, and epilepsy sought out treatment, the Guardian reported.
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