Sui­ci­dal ten­den­cies

Life­line Shang­hai – China’s only English-lan­guage life­line for de­pressed ex­pats

Global Times – Metro Shanghai - - FRONT PAGE - The ar­ti­cle was writ­ten by Chen Zel­ing.

AChi­nese girl re­cently cried out for help at Zhihu, China’s equiv­a­lent of on­line Q&A fo­rum Quora, be­cause she did not know where else to find help for her Amer­i­can boyfriend, who has been suf­fer­ing from se­vere de­pres­sion since ar­riv­ing in China. In­deed, the need for men­tal health ser­vices in Chi­nese cities such as Shang­hai is ris­ing, as cul­ture shock, lan­guage bar­ri­ers and an in­abil­ity to in­te­grate into an alien so­ci­ety is not un­com­mon among for­eign­ers here.

A re­cent In­terNa­tions study shows that there are over 900,000 for­eign­ers liv­ing in China, with Shang­hai home to the sec­ond-largest for­eign com­mu­nity af­ter South China’s Guang­dong Prov­ince.

Ac­cess to lo­cal men­tal health pro­fes­sion­als for ex­pats here, how­ever, can be dif­fi­cult. For many for­eign­ers, ser­vices and sup­port sys­tems they may have had back in their home coun­tries may not ex­ist or are hard to find in China, even in ul­tra-mod­ern me­trop­o­lises like Shang­hai.

Septem­ber 10 was World Sui­cide Pre­ven­tion Day, an aware­ness cam­paign to en­cour­age a global com­mit­ment to pre­vent sui­cides. The day was first rec­og­nized in 2003 as an ini­tia­tive of the In­ter­na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion for Sui­cide Pre­ven­tion and en­dorsed by the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion.

With this year’s theme “Take a minute, change a life,” it asks com­mu­nity mem­bers to take a mo­ment to lis­ten in a non­judg­men­tal way to those in need, as a sym­pa­thetic ear can some­times mean the dif­fer­ence between life and death.

The theme ac­cords with the val­ues of Life­line Shang­hai, a lo­cally based group of con­cerned vol­un­teers who lis­ten to call­ers in “a con­fi­den­tial, anony­mous and non­judg­men­tal man­ner.” Life­line Shang­hai is a non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion that op­er­ates an English-speak­ing helpline for the city’s in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity. It has helped tens of thou­sands of men­tally dis­tressed for­eign­ers here since re­ceiv­ing its first call in 2004.

A dif­fi­cult time

Teresa called Life­line Shang­hai seven years ago when she fell into de­pres­sion and anx­i­ety af­ter just six weeks in Shang­hai. She moved here with her hus­band but they were un­able to be to­gether ex­cept on week­ends due to his work. Worse still, her mother back home was di­ag­nosed with breast can­cer at the same time.

“The gen­tle­man who an­swered promised me con­fi­den­tial­ity; he let me cry; gave me re­sources on where to get help,” Teresa said in a WeChat ar­ti­cle shared by Life­line Shang­hai, adding that she was even­tu­ally re­ferred to a lo­cal ther­a­pist who helped her get past this dif­fi­cult time in her life.

Life­line Shang­hai re­mains the sole English­s­peak­ing cri­sis hot line ser­vice in the Chi­nese mainland. They pro­vide re­fer­ral and coun­sel­ing ser­vices to call­ers. Each month their “helpline” as­sis­tants re­spond to over 180 calls or on­line chats, Coreene Horenko, out­reach man­ager of Life­line Shang­hai, told the Global Times.

“We re­ceive calls on a broad range of is­sues in­clud­ing re­la­tion­ships with fam­ily, part­ners, co­work­ers, deal­ing with sub­stance abuse, fi­nances, cul­tural ad­just­ment, men­tal health is­sues and phys­i­cal ill­ness,” Horenko said.

The call­ers also vary in age, rang­ing from teenagers

from el­derly Well-trained­bul­ly­ingto or se­niors.sick at rel­a­tive op­er­a­torss­chool “Their far and con­cern­s­away,”can dat­ing, pro­vide Horenko­re­lateto vi­tal wor­ry­ing about anto ex­plained. their life stage,emo­tional sup­port pro­to­cols at es­tab­lished­such crit­i­cal to times. sup­port “We an have ac­tively sui­ci­dal well-de­vel­oped caller,” Horenko said. A lis­ten­ing ear

Af­ter as­sess­ing a caller’s level of risk, the op­er­a­tor asks the caller to make a plan, such as a sim­ple agree­ment that they will call back in the morn­ing or later the same day. It also in­cludes talk­ing through who can sup­port them and what can they do if their de­sire for self-harm in­creases.

Find­ing the right per­son to turn to for help is very imats por­tant. Away from fam­ily and friends, ex­pin China can have a dif­fi­cult time find­ing some­one to re­late to, and if they do not speak Pu­tonghua it can m more chal­leng­ing.

“We don’t of­fer ad­vice, but rather a lis­ten­ing ear, which is of­ten all that peo­ple need,” Horenko told the Global Times, ex­plain­ing that close friends or fam­ily mem­bers are some­times too well-mean­ing or too inea volved to sat­isfy such needs, though the ide of see­ing a

ther­a­pist is also not de­sir­able or fea­si­ble for many.

“To speak with some­one over the tele­phone or via an on­line chat is a good first step in get­ting the sup­port they need,” Horenko said.

How­ever, Horenko stressed that their helpline ser­vice is not an al­ter­na­tive to ther­apy. “Many call­ers con­tinue to call us for sev­eral weeks as we help them through a cri­sis, but we con­tin­u­ally talk to them about the im­por­tance of meet­ing face-to­face with a men­tal health pro­fes­sional,” Horenko said.

A lonely place

Life­line Shang­hai is vol­un­teer-based, which means it re­lies en­tirely on the time and ef­forts of oth­ers. Cur­rently, they have 52 trained, mul­ti­lin­gual vol­un­teers in the city, both for­eign and lo­cal Chi­nese, who do­nate their time and emo­tional sup­port.

Julio from US has been vol­un­teer­ing for over five years with Life­line. He came across an ad­ver­tise­ment in a Shang­hai news­pa­per and made up his mind to join be­cause, as an ex­pat him­self, he un­der­stands that Shang­hai, de­spite be­ing one of the world’s most pop­u­lated me­trop­o­lises, can also be a pro­foundly lonely place.

“These peo­ple need a friendly ear from time to time. And I’m happy to lend them one,” Julio told the Global Times, ex­plain­ing that he was trained how to han­dle a wide va­ri­ety of calls, from re­la­tion­ship is­sues or drug abuse to de­pres­sion or sui­cide.

Lis­ten­ing is a skill that is al­ways eas­ier said than done, he said. Pa­tience, em­pa­thy, a non­judg­men­tal at­ti­tude and a will­ing­ness to let the other per­son speak are what is ex­pected from ev­ery vol­un­teer.

“We learn com­mu­ni­ca­tion, mind­ful­ness and lis­ten­ing skills, all of which can be ap­plied to our own lives as well,” Julio said.

The vol­un­teer told the Global Times that he feels he has be­come a bet­ter per­son af­ter un­der­tak­ing this line of vol­un­teer work. “I re­ceive a de­gree of per­sonal sat­is­fac­tion when I’ve helped some­one in need, and I hope that some­day, if I’m ever in such a po­si­tion, maybe I will re­ceive the same,” Julio said.

“The num­ber of peo­ple calling Life­line not just in Shang­hai but from other parts of the world has sig­nif­i­cantly in­creased over the 13 years of op­er­at­ing this es­sen­tial ser­vice,” Horenko said.

Photo: CFP

A for­eign op­er­a­tor speaks with a caller.

Pho­tos: Cour­tesy of Life­line Shang­hai

Vol­un­teers of Life­line Shang­hai at work and dur­ing pro­mo­tion ac­tiv­i­ties

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