For someone who’s never seen a counselor, therapist, psychologist, or joined a support group, I’ve been raised to think that everyone could benefit from a little therapy. (Because I was raised in America?)
But when push comes to shove, I can’t bring myself to do it. Even during long periods of blahness when I lashed out at everyone and felt like a sad Zoloft bouncy ball. Even when my creative writing professors (who sometimes doubled as my therapists) suggested it when they read parts of my memoirs. Or when my parents suggested it.
I come from a long line of self-proclaimed depressive people, including my mom, her sister and her mother. Like all Chinese people, they weren’t raised with a concept of mental health–physical survival was enough of a challenge. No need for a life coach when your purpose is making it through the day, plain and simple. The fact you lost your spring in your step or joie de vivre didn’t make you sick, it made you normal.
“In the dark days of China’s Cultural Revolution, the government closed the nation’s psychology departments and research institutes. It banished psychologists to remote areas of the countryside to work the land. It dismissed psychology itself as a bourgeois pseudo-science promoting a false ideology of individual differences.” [source]
I’m not sure what it’s like today, but even ten years ago, you’d just go to a regular doctor to help you with issues that were clearly mental and not physical, like anorexia. When my mother and grandma were in the hospital, they met a woman and her sick, gaunt daughter. Since doctor’s offices are basically a few desks and beds in a room where several people walk in and wait, you can overhear everything going on with your neighbor. And if you’re a nosy ex-principal like my grandma, you’ll butt in and lecture the girl on how important her future is.
Since, obviously, neglecting mental illness doesn’t really make it go away, I imagine countries like China are just teeming with sad, misdiagnosed people without helpful resources. Not that they don’t love drugs–antidepressants are a cinch to get, and there fortunately doesn’t seem to be a huge stigma in taking them. But Americans always say that you need both the medicine and the therapy if you want any chance of healing.
Most Chinese people I know have taken anti-depressants, but very few have experienced the kind of therapy that Americans embrace so fiercely and regularly. I can just hear their protestations: Why spend money on talking to a stranger when you are literally dodging them every day in the real world? And air your dirty laundry when you spend your life doing the very opposite to save face? For immigrants, there’s also the issue of finding a doctor who understands your language. No matter how much I want my mother to be happy, I don’t know if I could accompany her to a psychologist and be her translator and look up every term in her Chinese-English dictionary the same way I do when we go to the general practitioner.
There are ~20,000 certified psychologists in China today, about 10% of that of other developed countries. But ten years ago, there was half that amount. Ten years before that, all they had were insane asylums for people at risk of hurting others. So for all the questions I have that can’t be answered, I trust ten more years will shed some more light.