Play­ful­ness can beat de­pres­sion too

China Daily (USA) - - SECOND THOUGHTS - Contact the writer at siva@ chi­nadaily.com.cn

Peo­ple thank men­tors, god­fa­thers or God for suc­cess or for over­com­ing a cri­sis, but Chi­nese woman Enoch Li ends her first book with “Thank you, de­pres­sion.”

The China launch of Li’s Stress in the City — it’s an Asian per­spec­tive on “de­pres­sion in the dig­i­tal age” — co­in­cides with World Men­tal Health Day, which falls on Wednesday. Plans are afoot for a Chi­nese trans­la­tion.

Li, 37, has seen, ex­pe­ri­enced and sur­vived it all. Her be­lief that China badly needs her quick-read is ab­so­lute, never mind nu­mer­ous other sim­i­lar ti­tles and on­line re­sources. The Trig­ger Press pa­per­back is al­ready avail­able at book­stores over­seas, and Ama­zon and Chi­nese e-mar­ket­places stock the e-book and au­dio­book ver­sions.

A mother of two, in­clud­ing a tod­dler, Li be­lieves the in­sights drawn from her check­ered life could help Chi­nese work­ing women. A for­mer global bank ex­ec­u­tive — she has worked in Hong Kong, Tokyo, Paris and Lon­don — Li moved to Bei­jing a few years back with her Aus­tralian hus­band.

The lat­ter stood by her, Li said, when life hit rock bot­tom af­ter a stress­ful pur­suit of ca­reer goals and peak per­for­mance un­leashed in­ner demons, ru­in­ing health, strain­ing re­la­tion­ships, sav­aging the mind. All this led to sui­cide at­tempts, then painful ther­apy, and med­i­ca­tion with some side ef­fects.

En route, how­ever, Li dis­cov­ered she was on a new jour­ney whose des­ti­na­tion was a rein­vented and re­booted self. The jour­ney lasted sev­eral years, pro­duced wis­dom, de­liv­ered peace.

But it could have eas­ily ended in disas­ter, Li has ad­mit­ted. An in­creas­ing num­ber of Chi­nese work­ing women and men, and even so-called left­be­hind chil­dren, face men­tal health risks, not just in ur­ban ar­eas. De­pres­sion-re­lated sui­cides are on the rise world­wide, in­clud­ing in China.

Ac­cord­ing to data, more than 600 mil­lion peo­ple world­wide had men­tal health prob­lems last year, cost­ing the global econ­omy an es­ti­mated $1 tril­lion in lost pro­duc­tiv­ity, a 20 per­cent ag­gra­va­tion over the past 10 years.

China, In­dia and the United States top the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion’s list of coun­tries where one in four to six adults have de­pres­sion, anx­i­ety and the like, with two out of three suf­fer­ers in China be­ing women. The si­t­u­a­tion is ex­ac­er­bated by a paucity of men­tal health pro­fes­sion­als and in­ad­e­quate laws and poli­cies.

With glob­al­iza­tion pro­duc­ing econ­omy-first so­ci­eties, lost pro­duc­tiv­ity due to men­tal health prob­lems, par­tic­u­larly those aris­ing from work­place is­sues, is a big worry. A China Daily re­port last week high­lighted how thou­sands of Chi­nese stu­dents at uni­ver­si­ties over­seas are fall­ing prey to de­pres­sion.

Ac­cord­ing to a re­port by the World Eco­nomic Fo­rum and the Har­vard School of Pub­lic Health, mind-re­lated lost pro­duc­tiv­ity is ex­pect to cost China $4.05 tril­lion in the pe­riod from 2012 to 2030. So much so, the WHO has de­vel­oped new met­rics like “bur­den of dis­ease” to mea­sure mor­tal­ity and other im­pacts.

The time is ripe to in­crease aware­ness and bring so­ci­etyspe­cific in­sights to in­form the “de­pres­sion dis­course” in China in par­tic­u­lar and Asia in gen­eral, Li said.

Stress in the City ex­poses the pe­cu­liar back­ground and fac­tors that could push Chi­nese women into men­tal health prob­lems.

For one, Chi­nese “tiger mothers” (those who force their chil­dren into a re­lent­less pur­suit of ex­cel­lence, killing their nat­u­ral cu­rios­ity and play­ful­ness) lay the seeds of early burnout, she said.

For an­other, so­ci­etal and em­ployer mind­sets tend to be pa­tri­ar­chal. Also, peo­ple are ig­no­rant about many as­pects: mod­ern men­tal health; symp­toms of an off-bal­ance mind-body-spirit sys­tem; how to sup­port the trou­bled; un­will­ing­ness among the trou­bled to seek help early on; and reme­dies and pro­fes­sional help avail­able.

China’s bat­tle against de­pres­sion, how­ever, need not be grim.

Play or fun could be part of the rem­edy. Li said she played with a va­ri­ety of teddy bears dur­ing her long, dark night of ter­rors, which helped quicken her re­cov­ery.

De­pres­sion taught Li to “slow down and shed the ar­ro­gance” that she can ac­com­plish too many things too soon. Com­bin­ing in­sights and ex­pe­ri­ence, she has de­vel­oped “Bear­apy”, a play-based tech­nique to deal with de­pres­sion, which she in­tends to bun­dle with books, work­shops, train­ing and con­sult­ing, and help em­ploy­ers tackle work­place burnout.

The time is ripe to in­crease aware­ness and bring so­ci­ety-spe­cific in­sights to in­form the “de­pres­sion dis­course.”

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