The Shanghai Covid Lockdown provokes a mental health crisis

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Helena Tao also relies on taking five pills a day to cope with the extreme mood swings caused by her bipolar disorder. Then came the lockdown in El Shanghai.

A 22-year-old college student living in the city’s Baoshan district thought about stockpiling drugs – after all, she was told the lockdown would last only four days – and by mid-April, her pills had run out.

A crazy online search has finally secured the new supply, but only spent two painful days without its medication. “I felt like a zombie. I just lay in my bed and cried no Because I’ve been in the worst shape for months. “

Inadequate care for the mental health of 25 million people in Shanghai is a major hidden cost of nearly two months of financial center lockdowns in the name of ending the spread of the coronavirus community.

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Despite having more psychiatrists and psychologists than any other Chinese city, its medical profession has created pressure to respond to waves of stress, anxiety and depression, most of which have not been treated. According to a recent survey conducted by the popular blog Data-Humanism, 2 out of 5 residents report symptoms of depression.

Since the central Chinese city of Wuhan launched the world’s first citywide lockdown in early 2020 in response to an unknown pathogen, psychologists have watched with concern how serious and long-term the effects of long-term isolation can be on mental health. .

In China, the controversy over the psychological burden that began in Wuhan has returned dramatically in recent weeks when, two years after the epidemic, families in one of the country’s wealthiest cities are suddenly trapped in their homes, unable to buy food, safe. Get a straightforward answer about how long the medicine or policy will last.

Local officials, overwhelmed by allegations of logistical failure, demanded clear information and pressure from superiors to stop the spread of the virus, had little time to devote to mental health.

Without Tao’s two days of medication, he called both his neighborhood committee and an ambulance for help, without success. Instead, he turned to a volunteer-driven online forum to secure pills and seek help. “Having a lockdown at home can make you feel more aware of your own emotions,” he said. “For people like us, the more you focus on yourself, the more painful it will be.”

George Hu, head of the Shanghai International Mental Health Association, said the “lockdown on this scale is virtually unprecedented in the world” and that it was difficult for local people to understand what was happening.

Since medical professionals are among the few who are able to travel freely throughout the city, Hu and his colleagues are roaming the empty streets after work to give patients with diagnosed mental illnesses access to controlled medications.

Hu, chairman of mental health at United Family Pudong Hospital, said it would be extremely confusing for Shanghai’s once-comfortable middle class to be suddenly swallowed up by physiological needs such as basic security and access to food. “It rips you apart from the bottom because a person learns to navigate the world from a safe base, the reality they know is believable and reliable. Some are now questioning the lockdown. ”

According to official media reports, China’s policy choice is strict: the nation either perseveres with “zero covid”, or it lies down and accepts the tsunami of infection and death. Since public health policy has been mixed with a top-down political campaign to prove that the Chinese Communist Party is capable of defeating the virus, there is little room for a middle way of gradual re-opening while continuing to selectively test, identify and isolate. The spread is slow.

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Also, there is no acknowledgment of the mental health that is largely absent from the official statement, but it is of particular concern to the population of Shanghai, where questions for “counseling” on the search engine Baidu rose 253 percent in April. Operators of the city’s official mental health hotline have told state media that calls have tripled, mostly asking about lockdown-related issues.

Even with the skyrocketing number of calls for help, research suggests that there may be many more people suffering from mental health problems who don’t know they should seek professional help. According to a 2021 study by Peking University, only 9.5 percent of patients diagnosed with depression in China were treated at a professional institute, and only 0.5 percent of them received appropriate treatment.

It may take months, if not years, for psychologists to realize the extent of the damage to mental health caused by a lockdown like in Shanghai. No suicides have been formally blamed for the policy, and experts warn that a single stressor is rarely responsible. But the unofficial list of parallel deaths maintained by the independent Chinese media includes a number of suicides in which the mental health crisis may be exacerbated by isolation stress or inadequate care.

Despite mixed evidence for suicide due to global lockdowns, one of the worst deaths during the 76-day Uhan lockdown was found at https://www.bmj.com/content/372/bmj.n415 compared to the previous year, from February to April 2020.

According to Fan Xiaodu, a psychiatrist at Umas Chan Medical School, as a practical stress test for mental health care in China, lockdowns have revealed gaps in the serious need for resolution. “I hope this is a wake-up call for the government and the people,” he said. “A lot of people don’t realize that there is no health without mental health and that mental health is for everyone, not just people with severe depression or significant behavioral problems.”

Fan continues to work with Chinese organizations to establish more community care, replacing the current system that focuses on care at major hospitals. “It’s not rocket science, but it requires political will and top-down engagement from the government,” he said.

A Shanghai resident shared an account of his neighbour’s disappearance, a woman in her mid-20s who became homeless in the early days of the lockdown, only to discover later that her newly adopted flatmate was suffering from severe anxiety and insomnia.

Over the course of several days, she became an unwilling caregiver, calling a psychologist she knew for advice and trying to get help, and arranged for the woman’s parents to come to Shanghai to collect her. At one point he called the police but was simply told “epidemic resistance is greater than anything else.” Eventually the neighbor was reunited with her father.

This episode forced him to reconsider an earlier acknowledgment that prevention of the virus was of primary importance. In an account shared with the Washington Post, he wrote, “I saw myself in it, so I took the initiative to help, just as I am supporting a version of myself that I have pushed into serious anxiety and depression,” he wrote in an account shared with the Washington Post. Wrote.

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