MENTAL RELAXATION: Middle school students attempt a stress-relief program offered at the Children and Teenagers' Development Center in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, on January 11 (XINHUA)
While in China, there are no official statistics regarding the prevalence of SAD. In December 2010, the Mental Health Center of Huaxi Hospital affiliated to Sichuan University published a survey on SAD conducted in Chengdu, capital city of Sichuan Province.
The survey was done over four years and covered Chengdu's 2,279 middle school and university students aged between 13 and 24, the typical age for the onset of SAD. The result showed 8.15 percent of those surveyed had symptoms of SAD, with the highest incidence in those aged 19, with 11 percent of those respondents displaying its signs.
"Such a high percentage came as a shock," said Zhang Wei, Vice President of the hospital, who was tasked with conducting the survey. Zhang has led 100 hospital employees in its mental health center to focus on SAD for 10 years. The center offers treatment for 40 to 50 patients a month, which has doubled from four years ago.
Yan Jun, a psychiatrist at Peking University Sixth Hospital, a major hospital in Beijing specializing in psychotherapy, said this number was lower than what she expected.
"I think it should be higher than 10 percent," said Yan. "Many people with SAD don't know they have it, not even to mention to come to the hospital. Some patients, even though they might know they have the disease, they refuse to come to us as they feel stressed even when talking to doctors."
Yan said patients coming to the center mainly fall into two age groups, 19 to 25 and 40 to 50. "The latter group is also a large number of people as they are often under heavy pressure from work, family and social life, which may cause SAD."
Yan took 43-year-old Wang Jing, one of his patients who worked in a big state-owned company in Beijing, as an example. Wang has been working in the company for 20 years but still remains at a junior position.
"She got quite a few promotion opportunities, but she turned all that down because she is afraid of giving presentations in front of her co-workers, which is a necessary procedure for the promotion," said Meng, "As a result, every time when Wang was given greater responsibilities, she would transfer to another department so she could work as a junior staff member, and she is considered to be a weirdo by her co-workers."
According to Yan, as many parents fail to cultivate the social skills of their children during their school years, the children are more likely to be self-centered or very sensitive to the other people's comments about them. "The older they get, the harder and longer the treatment will be," said Yan.
Zhang Mingyuan, a doctor with the Shanghai Mental Health Center, has been working on SAD for decades. According to Zhang's clinical experience, for most young patients, a 10-session group therapy over three months can produce marked results and for mild cases, just one or two sessions of group therapy is required.
The session includes quite a few methods including hypnotherapy and circumstance therapy with the purpose of finding out the root of SAD and helping them to get over it.
Zhang once took more than 10 patients to one of the most bustling shopping area of Shanghai and led them to shout out anything that they want to express. "At the beginning, they wouldn't dare," said Zhang. "I told them that nobody even cared about that. They might look at you now but they will forget you within a short time."
Finally the patients all shouted out with the guidance of Zhang. "It is crazy," said Zhang. "But the patients said they felt much relieved after that."
Zhang's concern is, despite the growing attention to SAD, there are not enough qualified medical personnel to help SAD sufferers.
Since 2003, the Mental Health Center of Huaxi Hospital has trained some 4,000 psychological counselors from all over the country, but only half of them have the necessary qualifications to be certified psychiatrists, and only some 10 percent of those certified are competent enough to provide an effective treatment, according to the hospital's Vice President Zhang Wei.