High ex­pec­ta­tions, but low in­comes

China Daily (USA) - - CHINA - By TANG YUE

“If you spend some­time with the pa­tients, you will find that they’re not ter­ri­ble peo­ple. Just like us, they have their ups and downs, and they don’t want to be lonely,” said Luo Chengjun, a so­cial worker in Shen­zhen, Guang­dong prov­ince.

Luo’s job in­volves as­sist­ing pa­tients who have left hos­pi­tal, so hemeets with three or four a day, at their homes or places they find con­ve­nient. From keep­ing a record of their med­i­ca­tion to con­duct­ing sim­u­lated job in­ter­views, Luo tries ev­ery pos­si­ble method to help them to re-en­gage with so­ci­ety.

How­ever, his as­sis­tance has not al­ways been re­ceived well, at least not at the be­gin­ning.

“In one case, it took three months be­fore the pa­tient spoke to me. I al­most burst into tears when it hap­pened,” the 31-year-old said. “And some­times, they trust us so much that they share se­crets they don’t tell their fam­i­lies.”

The per­ceived stigma means some fam­i­lies don’t want the so­cial work­ers and med­i­cal staff to visit their homes too of­ten, so Luo meets with pa­tients in cafes, parks or even su­per­mar­kets.

Men­tal health work­ers also face so­cial pres­sures.

“At first, my fam­ily and friends also thought it might be dan­ger­ous to be a men­tal health so­cial worker. But now they know it is a truly mean­ing­ful job and are very sup­port­ive,” said Zhao Jun­hua, a so­cial worker with Kangn­ing Hos­pi­tal, Shen­zhen’s only fa­cil­ity ded­i­cated to the treat­ment of men­tal ill­ness. She is one of 52 reg­is­tered men­tal health so­cial work­ers em­ployed by the city’s com­mu­nity ser­vices and hos­pi­tals.

Ac­cord­ing to Yuhwa Lu, as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of so­cial work at New York Univer­sity, an in­clu­sive ap­proach is es­sen­tial: “Com­pared with so­cial work­ers in other fields, men­tal health so­cial­work­ers shouldbe more cul­tur­ally sen­si­tive. It helps a lot to know the client’s val­ues and back­ground.”

In July, Lu, who founded the Pa­cific Ed­u­ca­tion, Ad­vo­cacy, Re­search and Learn­ing In­sti­tute of New York, de­liv­ered lec­tures at a five-day workshop for Shen­zhen’s men­tal health so­cial work­ers.

“The con­cept of so­cial work orig­i­nated in the West, so it is im­por­tant for Chi­nese prac­ti­tion­ers and aca­demics to adapt the ideas to fit the lo­cal en­vi­ron­ment,” she said.

For most, the low salary is a more press­ing prob­lem.

Wang Run­bin, a so­cial worker at the Dan­de­lion Club­house, a re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion cen­ter in Shen­zhen, makes 70,000 yuan ($10,500) a year, about 25 per­cent his salary in his pre­vi­ous job.

The 31-year en­joys spend­ing time with the pa­tients, but he con­ceded that he prob­a­bly would have re signed if he hadn’ t been sup­ported by his wealthy fam­ily.

“It takes a long time to build trust with the pa­tients, and it’s bad for them if their so­cial worker changes fre­quently. How­ever, peo­ple have fam­i­lies to sup­port, so many just come and go.”


Mem­bers of the Dan­de­lion Club­house pre­pare a meal at the com­mu­nity re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion cen­ter for pa­tients with men­tal health is­sues in Shen­zhen.

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