Don’t Suffer Alone: Tips for Dealing with Mental Illnesses in China

Don’t Suffer Alone: Tips for Dealing with Mental Illnesses in China
Apr 26, 2012 By Mark Turner ,

Health care for expats in China is a great concern for many people; it is something that is commonly taken into consideration by many travelers before they have even set foot on Chinese soil. There a hundreds of blogs and magazine articles on where to get the most effective, best value health care in China’s cities. One aspect of health care which is rarely touched upon in these materials however, is that of mental health.

In the eyes of many, a healthy mind and spirit are essential for a healthy body. However, even in the West, where recognition of mental illness has grown increasingly over the past few decades, there is still a stigma attached to this kind of illness. It is therefore unsurprising that in a country such as China, where a more stoic “pull yourself together” attitude is adopted towards mental suffering, and where expats are often on the fringes of society, the question of expat mental health is one that is commonly overlooked.

The problems that are faced by expats are numerous and can be the causes of depression and mental illness. Culture shock and readjusting to new surroundings affect everyone differently: for some the upheaval of coming to China is not so stressful, for others it is a threat to their mental health.

There are numerous aspects of China that expats find difficult to get to grips with. Environmental factors that first hit new arrivals to a Chinese city, such as air and noise pollution in big cities, are the biggest drags for people new to the environment. For some more sensitive people, these factors detract from quality of living, to the point of being harmful to mental health.


Having friends is priceless

People’s social groups are considered to be great determining factors in both mental and physical health. Social psychologists believe that the quality and number of friendships and relationships in a person’s life have a bearing on their wellbeing and is equal to that of other commonly recognized factors such as nutrition and exercise.

Newcomers to China may find the building of a decent social network and quality relations to be rather difficult. Compounded with the problem of language barriers and cultural differences this can make people very lonely. The effect of the expat lifestyle and loneliness leading to depression or a decrease in mental wellbeing is not something exclusive to newcomers in China: one of the certainties of being a long-term foreign guest in China is that, with the fast turnover of foreign people, social groups and friendships can disappear very quickly. It is possible for a large, solid group of friends to repatriate and be dispersed over a relatively short space of time. This can have extremely negative effects on a person’s positive outlook and mental balance.

Know how to build a support net

Luckily there are many solutions to the problems posed by loneliness: one needs to look no further than the pages of this website to find clubs, groups and organizations that will broaden social horizons and hopefully keep those expat blues at bay.

Sometimes a supportive network is not quite enough to keep people on an even keel. In the event of such dark times, the most useful thing is to have someone to talk to, one-on-one and confidentially. In these circumstances a number of organizations around China come into play. Shanghai’s original counseling service, Lifeline, offer crisis intervention, counseling and informational services to the city’s foreign community. Lifeline’s services are also free, making them a great help for those dealing with both mental health issues and financial hardship.

Shanghai expats speaking any of 10 different languages are offered counseling, psychotherapy and marital counseling by the Shanghai International Mental Health Association (SIMHA). Not only are the association’s therapists trained professionals, they are also able to refer patients to psychiatrists, should medication or further interventions be necessary.

Similarly, Beijing International Christian Fellowship offer peer counseling and psychotherapy to Beijing residents in English, Mandarin, Cantonese and Dutch. It is also common for the international hospitals in cities within China to offer access to trained psychotherapists and counselors: help is often much nearer than people realize.  

As a coping response for adapting to a new culture and new working practices/styles, people often need to find crutches for dealing with stress. For many an expat, life is a succession of late nights out in restaurants, bars and clubs. This kind of lifestyle, in some instances, can result in dependencies on the drink and drugs that are part and parcel of their new-found lifestyle. Many are unaware of the fact that there is support available for people with substance and alcohol dependencies in China: Alcoholics Anonymous holds meetings in a number of large Chinese cities, amongst them Shenzhen, Guangdong, Shanghai and Beijing.               

Although the light of mental health awareness still needs to be further expanded in China, one thing is for sure: resources do exist for non-Chinese speaking sufferers of mental illnesses in China. 

Useful resources:
Shanghai International Mental Health Association:
Beijing International Christian Fellowship:
Alcoholics Anonymous China:
Lifeline Shanghai:

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Keywords: Mental health China how to deal with mental illness China expat mental illness China expat mental health China


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Under "Useful Resources" it's (not .org)

Dec 16, 2018 16:17 Report Abuse



The best advice to people with mental disease is just to stay home, especially if you are on medication and know no one here. As outsiders looking in, and a not so reliable medical system in China, not to mention if one can get legitimate medications, are all huge hurdles one has to jump.

May 02, 2012 05:14 Report Abuse



ask the editor to give you my email address, I'm happy for them to let you have it.

May 28, 2012 10:26 Report Abuse



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Sep 16, 2011 09:46 Report Abuse



you said you are ok with mental things,you can control sth whatever, but unfortunately, maybe you are not awareness it, think seriously please!
the love is money, friendship is interest, 1 yuan for 1 yuan....
honestly it is true, but what about in your country? is that everything for free? then, why did you come here?

Apr 26, 2012 18:08 Report Abuse



You could not be more wrong and your post is shameful! Depression is NOT a choice. It is a chemical imbalance. It is a debilitating illness. Your lack of understanding on this matter is disgusting. You should learn to do researh on topics before posting about them.

Apr 30, 2012 00:15 Report Abuse