Is there really a growing problem of mental disorders and stress-related diseases in Sweden? Or, has this problem, in fact, always existed, only with a higher number of unrecorded cases? And if it truly is growing, why is this so? Has society become too stressful or does being open about feeling depressed actually just create an environment that encourages us to feed the wrong wolf? And, what will happen when China, in a few years, starts feeding the same wolf?
Today, talking about feeling stressed out or depressed, is generally frowned upon in China. However, just because people don’t talk openly about these issues, doesn’t mean they don’t exist. In fact, having spoken to several employees from different companies we visited during our Explore China trip, I got a sense that these conditions are actually quite common. To quote one of the young females I spoke to:
”I think many people suffer from this kind of problem, but we don’t talk about it. If you talk about it with your friends or colleagues there is a risk they would pull away from you— because there is something wrong with you. It’s a weakness and that’s shameful.”
Another factor leads me to believe that behavioral health issues are a big concern in China, even though not expressed: the Chinese family culture. Every child’s life starts out with very high expectations—especially if you have possibilities and opportunities that your parents didn’t. Most children do. Remember, this country suffered from starvation not long ago. Therefore, children are expected to get good grades, to get into the best schools, and then to get the best job. On top of this, young people are expected to marry quite early, even though they haven’t had any time to date*. Lastly, and the real reason for why a young person might feel stressed out, is that when your parents get old you are expected to provide for them—for the rest of their lives!
To summarize, China is not like Sweden. Yet.
As discussed, people do feel depressed and suffer from mental disorders in China but this is way too shameful to talk about.
Looking in our own rear-view mirror, however, this has happened for many generations in Sweden, too. From what I can see, it is quite recent that a shift has started to take place. Some say the number of people suffering from mental disorders in Sweden is increasing by the day but, is that really the case? Or does the truth lie in the fact that we have opened up about it and that the unrecorded numbers of people with behavioral health conditions suddenly dared to come out of the closet? Or worse, is it actually growing because talking about it leads us all to focus on the negative emotions rather than the positive ones? Are we just feeding the wrong wolf? These questions have made me wonder if talking about negative emotions and mental disorders could hurt society more than it helps.
China is still a country with many areas where people fight to fulfill basic needs, but the number of people enjoying the same comfort level as Sweden, where self-fulfillment is the objective, is rapidly increasing. Now, what will happen when 1.4 billion people become comfortable enough to stop worrying about basic needs and instead start thinking about self-fulfillment? What will happen when they all dare to open up about mental disorders—about suffering from stress-related diseases—and start feeding one of those wolfs? Will they experience full-blown country depression or will the government invent a way to magically solve these problems in people’s heads—perhaps before they even arrive?
At the end of the day, I think taking control of your own life will be the most important thing for all of us. Also, surrounding ourselves with people who help us grow, let us open up and also, dare to stop us when we dig too deep, is key. We need to take responsibility for our actions and start feeding the right wolf. Today, there are millions of great self-help tools and courses available and, by applying them, we can encourage creativity and an open mindset. By doing this, I believe the chances of remaining content as we achieve the level of self-fulfillment we truly crave get closer every day.
What do you think?
* For more interesting details on the dating life in China, see this article (the article is in Swedish).
Participant of Explore China 2018.