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UPDATED: June 16, 2014 NO. 25 JUNE 19, 2014
Lonely Struggle
Modern life brings a new perspective on dealing with depression
By Yuan Yuan

LIFESAVER: A fireman foils an attempted suicide by kicking a man back into his apartment on May 18 in Chengdu City, Sichuan Province (CFP)

Li Cheng is one of the lucky ones, as she got the right medicine quickly. Normally, a patient needs to go through a trial period for their medication—a doctor gives the patient some medicine to try, if it doesn't work, they can change to an alternative. Less than 50 percent of patients find the medicine that works best for them the first time round.

Zhang Jin, a deputy editor of Caixin, a business magazine, suffered from depression for years and he shared the treatment process he went through by writing about it online.

Zhang Jin described how the first doctor gave three different medicines to try, but he didn't feel any improvement, even after two months. Eventually he went to another doctor and finally saw results.


"People can accept long-term treatment for diabetes or high blood pressure but refuse to do the same for mental illnesses, it is just a matter of acknowledgement," said Jiang Tao, a psychiatrist with Beijing Anding Hospital, a mental health facility.

Wu Zhihong, a psychiatrist from Guangzhou, who suffered from depression while he was studying psychology at Peking University in the late 2000s, disagrees. "Most patients got depression from something that happened to them, doctors should help find the root of the problem instead of simply giving them drugs."

Wu cured his depression by himself. "As a psychology postgraduate, I looked deeply into my memories and mind and analyzed them to find the possible causes for my depression," Wu said. "I eventually recovered and I now use the same method on my patients."

Wang Gang, Director of the Depression Study Center at Beijing Anding Hospital, thinks that treatment should be the combination of both methods. "Taking medicine works sometimes but it is just a basic step. To find the right treatment, you need to find the right psychiatrist."

Unfortunately, finding the right doctor is no easy task. The number of certified psychiatrists is only 20,000 in China and most of them practice in big cities such as Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou in Guangdong Province.

According to Wang Gang, more than half of the patients with depression in Beijing Anding Hospital are from other places in China. In 2006, the hospital set up its Depression Study Center.

Many people think educated or middleclass people are more susceptible to depression, but this is not true. "The majority of patients are from rural areas and live in poverty, who are under pressure as they struggle for their livelihood. But their knowledge of depression is limited so only a small number go to see doctors," said Wang Gang.

Some scholars have tried to explain depression from a more positive angle. Emotions, like the other physical functions of human beings, are just adjustments to changes in environment, according to Chen Rongxia, a philosophy professor at Shanghai Normal University. Chen believes that a light depression can help individuals to relax and be more adaptable to changes.

"Just like pain, it is not a pleasant feeling, but it helps people to protect themselves," Chen said.

Wang Yami said that she is grateful for her depression: Without it, she might have stuck to a mundane and routine life which she hated; she might not have got a divorce, but continued on with her unhappy marriage. Fighting against her depression also gave her a new lease of life.

"I've got along with my depression and found some positive aspects to it. I've struggled roughly but as long as we get out of it, we are more positive than other people," said Wang Yami.

Li Cheng echoed Wang Yami by saying that now she feels more satisfied with her life after depression made her more appreciative of happiness.

"Modern medical theory requires doctors to treat the person, not only the disease, and this requires they analyze more about the patient," said Wang Gang. "When a person jumps to their death, we can't simply say it is because they had depression. This is irresponsible and brushes the issue under the rug."

Email us at: yuanyuan@bjreview.com

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