Chi­nese need to get head around men­tal health, says ex­pert

China Daily (USA) - - CHINA - By CHEN YINGQUN cheny­ingqun@chi­

Many Chi­nese still tend to think of any talk of men­tal health in a neg­a­tive light, says Ti­mothy So, a psy­chol­o­gist whose mis­sion is to ap­ply pos­i­tive psy­chol­ogy to make more Chi­nese hap­pier, and do­ing so even with the very young.

“Chil­dren’s men­tal health can have a great im­pact on their whole lives,” says So, founder and chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Win­no­va­tor Group Inc, a psy­cho­log­i­cal ser­vice provider that fo­cuses on chil­dren’s men­tal health and well­be­ing.

“My vi­sion is to ap­ply pos­i­tive psy­chol­ogy in China and to help cre­ate a bet­ter world for peo­ple,” So says.

So, 32, who was born in Hong Kong, stud­ied psy­chol­ogy first at the Chi­nese Uni­ver­sity of Hong Kong, then at As­ton Uni­ver­sity in Eng­land and then gained a PhD at the Uni­ver­sity of Cam­bridge. Men­tal health is a neu­tral con­cept with a spec­trum that cov­ers many states, such as men­tal well­be­ing, sub-health and men­tal ill­ness, but some Chi­nese tend to mis­con­strue it as men­tal ill­ness, he says.

While many psy­chol­o­gists are pre­oc­cu­pied with treat­ing men­tal ill­nesses, So is more in­ter­ested in adopt­ing a proac­tive ap­proach to psy­chol­ogy and well­be­ing. In prac­tice, that means show­ing peo­ple how to use psy­cho­log­i­cal tools and to be­come more pos­i­tive.

Psy­chol­ogy in China is still ap­plied in an im­ma­ture way, and a lot of work needs to be done to ed­u­cate peo­ple about the im­por­tance of men­tal health, he says.

“If you ask peo­ple whether they are un­der great pres­sure, many would say yes, but if you of­fer them pro­fes­sional ser­vice and prod­ucts that could help them, they might not even ac­cept them.”

The Pek­ing Uni­ver­sity Health­care Group says that in China there are about 420 mil­lion chil­dren and teenagers. And Phi­lan­thropy News re­ported that of all Chi­nese chil­dren and teenagers un­der 17, about 30 mil­lion have faced men­tal dis­tur­bance, and about 5.2 per­cent of them are af­flicted with men­tal ail­ments such as de­pres­sion.

Feng Tingy­ong, a pro­fes­sor of psy­chol­ogy at the South­west Uni­ver­sity Fac­ulty of Psy­chol­ogy in Chongqing, says child­hood is a key time for de­vel­op­ing a per­son’s in­tel­li­gence and per­son­al­ity. In look­ing after chil­dren’s men­tal health it is crit­i­cal to give due at­ten­tion to their po­ten­tial and cul­ti­vate a good per­son­al­ity, he says.

So says the well­be­ing of chil­dren has drawn grow­ing at­ten­tion in the past few years be­cause their par­ents, mostly born since 1980, are more aware than their an­tecedents were aware of the im­por­tance of chil­dren’s men­tal health.

“If you raise a child with bet­ter self-es­teem, re­silience and emo­tional so­cial in­tel­li­gence, he or she will be a bet­ter in­di­vid­ual as an adult and is un­likely to suf­fer from de­pres­sion. With cur­rent school­ing there is a lack of ed­u­ca­tion in chil­dren’s men­tal health, and there is a gap in the mar­ket both in deal­ing with men­tal ill­ness and im­prov­ing men­tal well­be­ing.”

Win­no­va­tor says the com­pany has hun­dreds of con­tracted psy­chol­o­gists world­wide who act as con­sul­tants in train­ing and coun­sel­ing. It works with kinder­gartens and ed­u­ca­tional or­ga­ni­za­tions in China on pro­grams that cul­ti­vate chil­dren’s in­tel­lec­tual and emo­tional pow­ers as well as their so­cial in­tel­li­gence and cre­ativ­ity.

Based on more than 2 mil­lion pieces of on­line data re­lat­ing to chil­dren’s men­tal de­vel­op­ment pro­file that Win­no­va­tor has ob­tained, it hopes to open sev­eral bricks-and-mor­tar child de­vel­op­ment cen­ters in Bei­jing that spe­cial­ize in chil­dren up to six years old by the end of the year. Win­no­va­tor has also launched a fund to sup­port good pro­grams on men­tal health in China.

“All our pro­grams are ed­u­ca­tional and fun,” So says. “We want to bring the best prac­tice on chil­dren’s men­tal health over­seas to China, to teach chil­dren to grow in a way that makes them men­tally happy. For me this is an in­dus­try that has not only great mar­ket po­ten­tial, but can also make a great so­cial im­pact.”

With the China Foun­da­tion for Poverty Alle­vi­a­tion, Win­no­va­tor also of­fers pro­fes­sional psy­cho­me­t­ric sys­tems and con­sul­tancy on men­tal health on left-be­hind chil­dren in China, whose par­ents work in cities as mi­grant work­ers. It also of­fers train­ing to those who care for th­ese chil­dren.

To pro­mote sound ideas on rais­ing chil­dren, Win­no­va­tor has also helped the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion to com­pile a hand­book on chil­dren’s men­tal health.

“Although we start with chil­dren’s men­tal health, our long-term vi­sion takes in the whole of so­ci­ety,” So says.

Win­no­va­tor has also worked with many com­pa­nies need­ing to do psy­cho­log­i­cal test­ing, train­ing and con­sul­tancy. It has formed strate­gic part­ner­ships with many real es­tate com­pa­nies in China of­fer­ing psy­cho­log­i­cal ser­vices to res­i­den­tial com­mu­ni­ties in or­der to cre­ate a more har­mo­nious and happy en­vi­ron­ment.

In 2009 So set up the Global Chi­nese Psy­chol­ogy As­so­ci­a­tion, which has es­tab­lished a net­work of about 1,000 psy­chol­o­gists glob­ally, aim­ing to ap­ply pos­i­tive psy­chol­ogy in China.

His PhD re­search at Cam­bridge was on pos­i­tive psy­chol­ogy and well­be­ing. With Pro­fes­sor Feli­cia Hup­pert he con­trib­uted to Bri­tain’s na­tional well­be­ing pro­gram that has been pub­lished ev­ery year since 2010.

Bri­tain es­tab­lished the pro­gram as a means of mea­sur­ing progress not just in terms of eco­nomic growth and stan­dards of liv­ing, but in the qual­ity of peo­ple’s lives. Eco­nomic growth should take ac­count of peo­ple’s well­be­ing, So says.

Since 2000 there has been more re­search in the West about pos­i­tive psy­chol­ogy and peo­ple’s well­be­ing, and well­be­ing has be­come an in­dex that has caught peo­ple’s imag­i­na­tion, he says.

“From 1950 to 2000 the world’s GDP in­creased greatly, but peo­ple’s well­be­ing changed lit­tle, which is to say that money can­not buy hap­pi­ness.”

For the past few years So has pub­lished eight books on pos­i­tive psy­chol­ogy in Chi­nese, all writ­ten by renowned psy­chol­o­gists, such as Martin E.P. Selig­man of the United States. He has also met the po­lit­i­cal lead­ers of many coun­tries keen to put well­be­ing pol­icy on their agenda.

Chil­dren’s men­tal health can have a great im­pact on their whole lives.”

Ti­mothy So founder and chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Win­no­va­tor Group Inc


Ti­mothy So fo­cuses on chil­dren’s men­tal health and well­be­ing.

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