As recently as a few decades ago, few Chinese had so much as heard of the mental disorder, depression. Many who suffer from the condition, along with their families and their communities, are still not well informed about it; as a result, few of those afflicted visit hospitals to address their sadness or dour moods.
Today, recognition of this psychological disorder is spreading across China. Depression is now considered a major mental condition affecting public well-being. According to statistics from the Chinese Association for Mental Health, the incidence of this disease is about 3 to 5 percent in the country, and nearly 200,000 people commit suicide every year due to depressive syndromes. Treating the illness requires an annual combined expenditure of 60 billion yuan ($9.6 billion).
While it is not clear what specifically causes depression, a widely accepted theory is that—in addition to an individual's neurobiological framework—mounting stress and a fast-paced lifestyle can exacerbate the deceleration of serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine receptors in the brain.
In recent years, the Chinese Government has paid more attention to the prevention and treatment of mental diseases, including depressive syndromes. On May 1, 2013, the Central Government issued its very first Mental Health Law in an effort to enhance treatment options and promote research in this field. Hospitals and medical organizations, too, continue to wage public awareness campaigns and provide pharmaceutical and psychiatric treatment options.
There are still many obstacles to overcome, though. At present, there are only around 20,000 registered psychological doctors in China—far fewer than in many developed countries. The Chinese population, too, has yet to openly embrace the importance of mental health and treatment. It is reported that as many as 90 million people in China may suffer from depression, but few patients can or are willing to be seen at the sparse number of psychology clinics available.
To reduce depression's effects on public health, governments should adequately fund and invest in research on this condition as well as making related information widely available to the public.
To make greater strides in the destigmatization of depression, the public also needs to raise its understanding of the illness. Medical organizations should work with schools, communities and villages to educate citizens on effective methods of stress relief and the benefits of psychological or psychiatric therapy. Only when all walks of society are educated on the causes and treatments behind depressive disorders, can those affected live a better life.