Copyright – The Guardian
Survey reveals main cause of death of people under 35
Tuesday July 26, 2005
Suicide is the main cause of death among young adults in China, the state media said yesterday in a report that highlights the growing pressures to succeed in love, work and education in one of the world’s fastest changing societies.
Increasing stress, loneliness and a lack of medical support for depression are thought to have contributed to an annual suicide toll that is estimated at 250,000 people a year.
According to the China Daily, an additional 2.5 million to 3.5 million make unsuccessful attempts to kill themselves each year.
Referring a recent survey by the health ministry, the paper said that suicide was the fifth most common cause of death in China after lung cancer, traffic accidents, heart disease and other illnesses.
But it is most prevalent among young urban intellectuals and rural women. Exam stress, career worries and relationship problems are named as the main reasons why suicide has become the main killer of people aged between 20 and 35.
Newspapers are filled with stories of bright and wealthy college students – almost all of them single children because of the state’s one-child policy – who kill themselves because they fear that they cannot fulfill their families’ aspirations.
Among the most recent tragedies was the death of a student at Guangzhou University in southern China who jumped off a campus building last week.
“I’m very sorry I can not live up to your expectations,” wrote the student, named Jun, in a farewell note. It was an all too common story on campuses throughout China.
In the first six months of the year, 14 students killed themselves in Beijing, compared with 19 in the whole of 2004. According to the Beijing Suicide Research and Prevention Centre, China has 22 suicides for every 100,000 people, about 50% higher than the global average.
Some of those who suffer get little public sympathy, notably the 1,000-plus communist cadres who kill themselves every year after being exposed in anti-corruption campaigns.
Others are ignored, particularly rural women whose suicide rate – about 30 in every 100,000 people – is among the highest in the world.
With many husbands leaving their villages to go and find work as migrant labourers in the cities, women in the countryside have less support in dealing with the traditional pressures of motherhood, farming and moving in with their in-laws. Many also have access to pesticides – a very painful but effective way to commit suicide.
But political, academic and media attention has focused on depression among young urban intellectuals who are at the forefront of China’s economic boom.
More than 60% of people surveyed in a recent two-year study of 15,431 depression sufferers were in their 20s or 30s, the China Daily said.
“Society is full of pressure and competition, so young people, lacking experience in dealing with difficulties, tend to get depressed,” Liu Hong, a Beijing psychiatrist, told the paper.
Such concerns have reached the highest levels of government. Last September, the State Council issued its first mental health policy document, aimed at targeting resources at high-risk groups and making it easier for people to receive treatment.
But the response has been slow. Investment in China’s healthcare system has fallen far behind the country’s economic growth, particularly in the area of psychology.
According to Norman Sartorious, former director of the World Health Organisation’s mental health programme, China has one psychiatrist for 100,000 people – about 20 to 30 times lower than the rate in Europe.
One reason is the cultural stigma attached to depression, which is seen as a character flaw rather than as a medical ailment. In the past it was also associated with decadent western societies, but now that China is growing wealthier it is starting to face up to the problem.
Two years ago, the first national suicide prevention centre was established in Beijing. It has been flooded with more than 220,000 calls, but only one in 10 of those seeking support has been able to get through first time.
Jonathan Watts – The Guardian
Copyright – The Guardian