The topic of mental health is a sensitive one, and many cultures around the world still do not acknowledge its place in general good health. In China, it still holds the stigma of being taboo, inappropriate, and embarrassing to discuss. Expatriates coming from other cultures might also feel the same and fail to recognise or admit to others that they are struggling with depression, anxiety, or mental illness. For those suffering in silence in Shanghai, it can be very difficult. It is also tough for practitioners to address the various problems given the transiency of the expatriate population, the nature the issues and the limitations expatriate organisations face.
In recognition of these difficulties, a group named REACH Shanghai was established in early 2016. “REACH” stands for Respond, Educate, Advocate, Collaborate and Help, and is a non-partisan group of key local and foreign stakeholders working together to better assess and address the needs of the international community, and to coordinate the responses across mental health and social support services in Shanghai. It aims to raise general mental health and social service awareness, sponsor forums on government policy change affecting mental health or social service topics, and identify short and long term solutions including increasing demands for subsidized counseling. Through collaboration of both local and international organisations, it bridges an important gap in serving Shanghai’s international community.
Dr. Timothy Foggin, Medical Director, Advance Medical (Asia Pacific) and Advisor to REACH Shanghai says, “Some issues cannot be adequately addressed by any single clinician, profession or healthcare organization, thus the importance of collaborative approaches. By ensuring both international and Chinese service providers are represented at the same table to fully grasp the issues, there can be a significant material difference.”
Community Center Shanghai which provides counseling services, has identified that relationship-oriented problems account for approximately 16 percent of counseling requests, with 15 percent of clients also requesting for help with anxiety, 12 percent for depression, 12 percent for couples counselling and 9 percent for marriage counselling. Lifeline Shanghai, an English speaking anonymous support helpline has identified that loneliness, culture shock and trouble adjusting to Shanghai’s pollution, traffic and crowds are common issues with expatriates as are adjustments for the non-working partner, infidelity and money problems.
A relatively new issue is the downgrading or loss of expatriate contracts resulting in problems adjusting to a different lifestyle, change in environment and loss of community or friends related to this.
A new law came into effect in China on March1, 2016 that places an enforceable duty on the public to report cases of child abuse or neglect. Members of REACH have been instrumental in creating awareness about the update, especially in international schools. The law also offers protection for victims of domestic abuse; it provides important recourse for both Chinese citizens and foreign nationals residing in China as there is an obligation to report cases to the police. Now, reported cases in the international community may be referred to the local authorities with the assurance of the law’s enforceability.
“The update has made it crystal clear that there is a duty for anyone to report, and that it is a public, not private matter” says Fiona Yapp, Clinic Director at the Essential Learning Group and registered Child Protection Social Worker in England.
Learn more at www.reachshanghai.org. (VPN needed)