Seeking expat mental health services in China may seem like navigating an expensive maze where issues related to professionalism and confidentiality lurk behind every corner, while being in an urgent need of support to help you go forward in life. This article aims to offer information for expats in China about where to find mental health treatment for different needs, such as depression, anxiety, as well as marriage and family counselling.
Existing Services in China
Firstly, whatever you do, don’t be intimidated by what you read online about the Chinese public mental healthcare system. Sure, the country has one psychiatrist for every 83,000 citizens, which is one-twelfth of the ratio in the US, according to a study by Lancet.
Research in the field is scarce, but according to one study published by US insurer Aetna International in 2017, expat depression is on the rise. Member claims related to depression among 5,000 global customers jumped 50 percent from 2014 to 2016, while those related to anxiety rose 28 percent.
Only some 6 percent of Aetna International clients anticipated they would have trouble relocating, according to a separate survey done in 2016, which shows that anyone, even the strongest of minds, may get the blues.
Expats may be more prone to issues of the mind, which is not surprising considering the often tremendous amount of stress that goes into starting a new life in a strange place, which usually comes with a foreign language to learn, a new culture to navigate, a fresh set of colleagues or friends to get to know, and often a more challenging job to handle. And all this without the familiar network of people around to offer their support. No wonder everything can start to feel a little overwhelming.
As a result Expats and their children can suffer from various issues:
- Anxiety (potentially partly due to Chinese visa issues)
- Cultural shock, homesickness
- Panic Disorder
- Eating Disorder
- Bipolar Disorder
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- Relationship, family, marriage Issues
- Alcohol, Drug Abuse
What Can You Do?
Sometimes people are simply in need of friends or opportunities to socialise however for mental health issues always seek professional help, here are some ways for expats to finding help from doctors, therapists and counselors in China. Let’s start with how to find new friends in China?
Make an Effort to Meet New People
As cheesy as it may sound, the first step to finding a solution to worries of the mind is talking. And starting with anyone.
Building up a new social network besides colleagues may begin with signing up for more career and hobbies groups through apps such as Meetup or expat communities such as Expat Neighbours, InterNations or Girl Gone International. Comprehensive evidence is lacking, but the wild guess is that these platforms sure should be better for starting new friendships rather than searching at bars or swiping on Tinder.
Those who have something heavy and more sensitive on their minds and would like to speak anonymously may find use of an English-speaking helpline called LifeLine Shanghai, that serves on a volunteer basis each day of the year. It is also free of charge.
You may phone LifeLine Shanghai’s hotline at 400 821 1215 or visit their website to read more.
So where can you find mental health or psychological treatment in China?”
Find Professional Help
Go to a Chinese Public Hospital.
Getting back to the public mental healthcare, it can be useful to certain groups of expats.
For Expats who speak Chinese and are basically just looking to renew their prescription from their home countries, public hospitals may come in handy. Moreover, going to a government-funded hospital in China is usually the most affordable way to go about things.
As usual in Chinese healthcare, it is probably best to opt for the biggest public institution in town as it is likely that the best doctors seek employment there rather than at smaller clinics. A single one-to-one consultation session can cost from CNY300 to CNY700 (USD44 up).
One example of a Chinese public hospital that specializes in mental health is Shanghai Mental Health Center in Xuhui district, which offers psychotherapy, medication management and rehab services to adults, as well as has a department specialized in child and adolescent psychiatry.
It is good to know that the Chinese basic medical insurance plan may not cover mental healthcare costs. What makes it hard to ask what is covered, is that a cultural stigma about the issues of the mind is still strong in China. Moreover, employees for Chinese companies usually have a group medical insurance plan which requires them to bounce their diagnosis via HR to get reimbursements from an insurance company, which can be intrusive, to say the least.
Chinese hospital pharmacies are also relatively well-stocked with imported drugs, perhaps just with a slightly marked-up price from what you’d pay at home. Just make sure you can communicate your needs with the doctor in Chinese and be prepared to pay for the medicine by yourself, potentially in cash.
Go to See a Counsellor at School
Most Chinese international schools and universities have a counsellor whose job is to help students with anything related to school or beyond that bothers their minds.
This being the first step toward addressing an issue, these professionals can also guide a child or an adolescent forward to find more comprehensive medical help. This service should be confidential and free of charge for students, but it’s best to check personally before pouring your heart out.
Go Upscale With an International Hospital.
Expats in first-tier and second-tier cities usually have at least one international hospital such as United Family and Parkway Health at their disposal.
These high-class institutions have English-speaking doctors and some have a 24-hour hotline where potential patients may find help in determining which kind of help to seek and make an appointment in a day or two.
International hospitals are generally at the top of the food chain in terms of Chinese healthcare so fees to see a doctor may rise up to thousands of Chinese yuan. Upon our call, United Family Shanghai confirmed that a one-hour consultation fee for a psychologist or a psychiatrist costs CNY2,400 (USD355).
Due to the high costs, it may be advisable to check first if your personal insurance plan covers mental healthcare. Related pre-existing issues are rarely included so in this case, it may be good to check different insurers for a competitively priced upgrade with broader coverage.
Find a Therapist
China is home to many foreign mental health consultants and one of the best ways to find a certified therapist is to look for alliances of such professionals. In Shanghai, tens of therapists who offer services related to marriage counselling, LGBT questions, eating disorders, among others, are part of the Shanghai International Mental Health Association.
When choosing a therapist, it is good to check the credentials in order to find the best match in terms of academic merit and cultural fit. As these professionals work basically as entrepreneurs in China, pricing may also vary and visits are not likely to be covered by insurance plans.
For those patients who suffer from insomnia or other conditions that likely require medical treatment, it is advisable to go directly to see a psychiatrist at a Chinese or international hospital as only they can prescribe medicine.
Make the Progress Last
People who worry about their mental health know the best what works for them. Progress is individual but often requires consistent effort.
Whether what works for you is getting out more to meet new friends, checking in with a therapist every week, or taking some prescribed medicine, the most important thing is that step by step, you’re laying a foundation for a more stable and healthy life abroad.