Young people, especially those with university degrees, make up the largest proportion of Chinese people suffering from depression, statistics from the Beijing Suicide Research and Prevention Centre revealed this week.
According to a survey of 15,431 depression sufferers over the past two years, people in their 20s accounted for 37.6 percent of the total number. People in their 30s made up 22.7 percent. Around 40 percent of those surveyed had university degrees.
"Society is full of pressure and competition, so young people, lacking experience in dealing with difficulties, tend to get depressed," said Liu Hong, a psychiatrist in the centre in the Chinese capital.
A report from the Ministry of Health last month showed that suicide is the fifth most common cause of death, but the main one for people aged between 20 and 35.
The number of people committing suicide has soared in China recently, rising to an estimated 250,000 a year. The number of unsuccessful suicide attempts stands at least 10 times that number, between 2.5 million and 3.5 million.
Arguments, unemployment, diseases, the breakdown of relationships and work-related problems are all listed as reasons for committing or attempting to commit suicide.
The worsening situation has drawn attention from both the government and the public.
The State Council issued a document last September on psychological crises.
The centre has set up a national 24-hour free suicide intervention hotline. A service is also available to English-speakers.
"Ever since its opening in August 2003, more than 220,000 people have called for psychological consultations, with a daily average of 1,000," said Zhang Xiaoli, a centre official.
After 16 psycho-medical workers completed six months of intensive training, they received their certificates to become professional operators for the hotline this week.
One of them, Wang Hongxia, said she felt honored to work for the service. "It means we can help more people suffering from emotional problems through our joint efforts," she said.
The number of hotlines has grown from two in 2003 to the current 10. A lack of cash means it is still far from meeting demand.
"Only one in every 10 people can get through on the first try," said Michael Phillips, a Canadian psychiatrist who has worked in China for 20 years and is the executive director of the centre. "That is very dangerous because most of the callers are anxious and may commit suicide impulsively."
The center’s budget for 2005 stands at 1.5 million yuan (US$176,000), but the centre can only get donations from a few institutions, such as the Ford Foundation.
However, Phillips is still ambitious. He wants to add two more telephone lines by the end of 2005 and increase the number of operators to 50.
(China Daily July 25, 2005)