Playfulness can beat depression too
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.”