Trigger Warning: A Chinese Father Saved More Than 300 People at Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge

“I understand these people. I know they are tired of living here. They have had difficulties. They have no one to help them.” – Chen Si

Since the Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge was first built in 1968, an estimated 2,000 people have died from suicide involving the bridge. According to data from 1995-99, in China’s first national survey in 2002, death from suicide accounted for 3.6 percent of the country’s total deaths. During that period of time, 287,000 Chinese people died from suicide every year, putting the average suicide rate at 23 per 100,000 people.

Chen Si, also known as The Angel of Nanjing, has been patrolling this bridge every Saturday for more than 20 years and has managed to save more than 300 people from death by suicide. He is a 52-year-old father from Nanjing, the capital of Jiangsu province of the People’s Republic of China. Following the loss of a close relative to suicide, Chen Si has taken up this cause because someone needs to.

A Long History

The relationship between mental illness and suicide is controversial in China. Those who follow traditional Chinese philosophy are not encouraged to express their feelings, nor are they encouraged to expect their environment to change to suit their needs. Therefore, intense misery and feelings of despair may go unrecognized, and suicidal symptoms are not easily detected by Chinese medical professionals. In fact, many doctors working in rural areas do not understand the symptoms of depression and often receive low salaries, which discourages more doctors from entering the mental-health field.

Gender Differences

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) statistics, China’s suicide rate in the 1990s was 20 per 100,000 people. In the 1990s, female suicides were higher than male suicides by a factor of three. While China remains one of the few countries with a higher suicide rate among women than men, recent data shows that these disparities have evened out. In 2016, suicide rates among Chinese men and women came up almost even at 9.1 per 100,000 men and 10.3 per 100,000 women. Overall, China’s suicide rate in 2016 was 9.7 per 100,000 people, which was among the lowest globally.

A 2002 survey also revealed that 88 percent of females who died from suicide used agricultural pesticides or rat poison. Although China initially eliminated highly toxic pesticides to improve the safety of its farm produce, the elimination also had a substantial impact on the reduction of deaths from suicide among women. Research shows that men tend to attempt suicide through violent means such as hanging, whereas women tend to attempt suicide with medication. Overall, most studies indicate a decline in suicide rates among all gender and regional categories in China. The studies also recommended targeted suicide prevention programs, particularly for people in rural areas.

Shifting Tide

Women’s freedom, urbanization, and decreased access to toxic pesticides are key reasons behind the decline in suicide rates. According to Jing Jun, a professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing, “female independence has saved a lot of women.” The founding of New China in 1949 in combination with the opening-up policy in the late 1970s and the continuous growth of China’s economy has led to more equitable opportunities for women. Additionally, urbanization removed certain social constraints leading to more freedom for women. For instance, escaping an abusive partner or household may be easier in a city than in a small village.

Despite a decline in death by suicide rates in China, this is an area that we should pay more attention to. Chen Si acts as an angel, but he cannot do this work alone. He hopes that officials consider building a net across the Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge to prevent deaths by suicide. 

Resources Available

The Crisis Intervention Centre, the first of its kind in China, was established by Nanjing Brain Hospital to provide psychological advice and support to Chinese people. The Centre also has a hotline, which can be reached at 862583712977.

The Lifeline Shanghai at (400) 821 1215 is a free, confidential, and anonymous support service that is open 365 days a year from 10am-10pm GMT+8. 

Facebook and other social media platforms also offer many virtual support groups for individuals experiencing hardship. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 is a 27/4, free and confidential resource to support people in distress, prevention, or in an active crisis. Users should utilize the translate function on these web pages to adjust for language barriers, if necessary.

Paradigm Shift Urgently Needed In Education

classroom-testing

Childhood stress levels are at an all time high. According to the Healthy Young Minds report, around 10 percent of the world’s children today are suffering from diagnosable mental health problems; mainly anxiety, depression, and stress. That’s around 220 million children and young people suffering. And what’s worse, this number is expected to rise. The World Health Organisation states that by 2030, depression will be the number one global health risk. If we don’t act now, this will have a profound negative impact on the world. Our global economy and humanity will feel the brunt of this crisis.

This is a cry for help. Will we answer the call? 

The way to combat this childhood suffering is by creating a paradigm shift in how we currently educate our children. One which addresses both the universoul nature (our inner essence) and intellectual development of children. In the 21st century, children need hope and inspiration. They need guidance toward inner peace as much as they need guidance towards academic achievement.

Parents – including myself – are increasingly stressed and under pressure from longer working hours and less down time. Social media and the internet have shaped a sense of urgency and immediacy in replying to emails; which means the work life has been seeping deeper and deeper into the home life. This makes it nearly impossible to switch off. Children are like sponges. They feel and sense what’s happening around them. It’s no wonder children are also becoming stressed and under pressure themselves.

What is the meaning, purpose and function of education? 

The general purpose of education is to teach children to think critically. In order to attain standards set by the national curriculum, schools put children under pressure to achieve certain outcomes. The Guardian recently reported that stress caused by exams is at an all time high with a 200% rise in requests for counselling specifically because of exams says the NSPCC.

The irony is that whether a child will become a happy and functioning adult with social and emotional capacity is not measured through academic achievement. We might have children coming out of the education system with great intellect but if they are suffering from stress, anxiety, and a lack of emotional competence it does more harm than good. Currently, not enough time is spent on what makes us human beings.

Shifting education in the 21st century

Educators can be pioneers in transforming humanity by providing a curriculum enriched with both universoul and intellectual objectives. Love, empathy, compassion, forgiveness, tolerance, responsibility, harmony and a concern for others are at the crux of the values of humanity and yet it’s missing from education.

Schools need an ethos that promotes children’s universoul well being by providing yoga, meditation, mindfulness, and promoting happiness in schools, as Wellington College has been successfully running since 2006. Teaching children about altruism is another fundamental character trait in healthy social development.

Stress is inevitable in life but if children and young people are able to learn how to understand and manage their own emotions they will become emotionally, mentally, socially, and physically more healthy.

For the sake of our common humanity we must act now. Our future depends on it.

Cyberbullying: A Growing Threat to Young People

Cyberbullying is one of the major threats to the mental health of young people according to a group of young researchers at the  UK National Children’s Bureau. A survey by the charity Beatbullying found that nearly one-third of all 11-16 year olds have been bullied online, and for 25 per cent of those the bullying was ongoing. The consequences range from young people developing anxiety, depression and self-harming behaviours – through to suicide, and the World Health Organisation recognises this as a global problem. Social workers and other professionals working with young people worldwide need to take this modern threat seriously.

cyber-bullying-posterCyberbullying has increased dramatically in recent years.19% of regular Internet users between the ages of 10 and 17 reported being involved in online aggression; 15% had been aggressors, and 7% had been targets; 3% were both aggressors and targets. 17% of 6-11 year olds and 36% of 12-17 year olds reported that someone said threatening or embarrassing things about them in e-mails, instant messages, web sites, chat rooms or text messages.

Very little research has been done to investigate the issue of cyber-bullying. However, cyberbullying is as harmful if not more harmful than the usual forms of bullying due to the secret nature of the attack, the invasion of personal space, and the fact that potentially harmful messages can be displayed to a large audience in minutes.

Many school students involved in cyber-bullying can be unaware of what they are contributing to. School anti-bullying policies are not effective in stopping it because of the special nature of this form of bullying which allows those involved in passing on hurtful material to feel less responsible.

Cyberbullying has been defined as the use of information and communication technologies such as e-mail, cell phone and pager text messages, instant messaging, defamatory personal Web sites, blogs, online games and defamatory online personal polling Web sites, to support deliberate, repeated, and hostile behaviour by an individual or group that is intended to harm others. Cyber-bullying includes a large variety of behaviour and situations, such as sharing embarrassing images or videos, sending abusive text messages or stealing online identities to cause problems for the victim via social media.

As well as the rate and frequency of bullying emerging as important factors, another significant variable in evaluating the impact and consequences of being bullied is the length of time of ‘the bullying relationship’. Few studies have been able to follow-up research with bullies but one study found that among a group of students who had been identified as persistent bullies 70% had received criminal convictions by the time they were 24 years old.

More than 80% of children in the UK have access to home computers and more than 75% of children aged eleven own a mobile phone so the scope for bullying in this way is huge. The proportion who report being cyber-bullied (19.7%) is similar to that found in other studies globally. Young people feel that cyber-bullying consists of traditional bullying methods such as ‘harassment’, ‘antagonising’, ‘tormenting’, ‘threatening’ via different forms of technology. Respondents identified ‘intentionality’ as an important feature of cyber-bullying.

Overwhelmingly young people agreed that it was as harmful:

“Cyber-bullying is basically still verbal bullying and is definitely psychological bullying. Any bullying is psychological though, really. And any bullying is going to be harmful” (Girl)

“Just because it isn’t in real life doesn’t mean the emotional distress caused is any less” (Boy).

and in some cases that it was worse because the bullying is in black and white, could get very personal, has the potential to involve many more people much more quickly and has a degree of secrecy about it which in turn can create fear in the victim. In addition because cyber-bullying can take place at any time and in any place, options for escape are limited. Or as one girl said: “There is no hiding place from cyber-bullying”

Measures and resources need to be developed in a Public Health context to support young people to report incidents of cyber-bullying through other young people who could help change attitudes and provide a source of peer support. Therapeutic methods and models used by health and social care staff may require changing, adapting or enhancing to reflect the particular characteristics of both bullies and victims of cyber-bullying and their needs.

Legal and Political pressure needs to be exerted on multi-million pound social media companies and organisations that promote and profit from internet use to act more responsibly in their duty of care to customers and to be pro-active in combating harm being conducted via their websites/chatrooms and social networking forums. Public Health and education policies and practice that take a holistic approach and which stress the importance of developing values of co-operation, care and kindness amongst young people, rather than competition and individuality need to be designed, developed and implemented sooner rather than later as the digital world contributes to the further isolation and self-centred context of the emotional and psychological development of young people.

Water A Necessary Resource But Not Available to All

Over two billion people in the world are unable to secure either access to safe water, or enough water to survive, over 4,000 Children die every day due to lack of clean water through dehydration or diseases.  Water-related diseases that affect these children and their families include malaria, schistosomiasis, salmonella, dysentery, and giardia.

Drinking_waterMore than half of the beds in medical facilities around the world are occupied by people with diarrheal diseases. Additionally, all of these diseases are treatable through having sanitary water and water sources.  Most of these diseases require something as basic as chlorinated filters or simple antibiotics to prevent ailments.  Scarcities in access to clean water however is an issue that is still a struggle for many organizations around the world.

Efforts through activism have been approaching this issue through awareness and involvement.  The World Health Organization (WHO) have declared the decade of 2005-2015 the International Decade for Action: Water for Life.  Through these efforts, a report in 2011 states that 64% of the world’s population has had improved access to sanitary conditions.  Unfortunately this still leaves over one third of the world without improved access.  Other organizations have been making strides at resolving this discrepancy.

The Food & Water Watch work to educate those that actively seek information on the internet with global figures on the issues pertaining to our daily sustenance.  Action Against Hunger educates and acts in emergencies to install storage and reservoirs, decontaminate water supplies, and repair/build pipe water to villages and care centers.  The Water Project works to educate and implement solutions to the water crisis.  For those that wish to get involved further with the water project, one can start a fundraising page through The Water Project’s website.

There has also been numerous water challenges that have occurred to spur conversation and action toward ending the water crisis.  The Water Project has introduced a two week challenge, daring people to forgo any liquid but water and donating the resulting savings toward helping end the water crisis.  Here in Denver, Colorado, Global Health Connections has challenged sixth graders in the Denver/Aurora Schools to come up with ways to end facets of the water crisis through innovative and creative ways.  They have mentors help the youth think critically about the issue, and develop their ideas into tangible and sustainable solutions.

Efforts like this to rouse a new generation to become globally-minded and work to help end an issue that will continue to plague future generations unchecked.  To get involved with these organizations, or see how your organization can foster support, follow any of the links above.

Harm Reduction Defined

Harm reduction seeks to maintain people’s safety and minimize death, disease and injury from high-risk behaviour. The reduction of harmful consequences can be associated with drug use or other risky health behaviours. Thus, harm reduction can be used to decrease harmful illicit drug use or prostitution. The main goals of harm reduction are supported by social justice and empowerment theory, as harm reduction allows people to make autonomous decisions, but it also addresses the inequalities and stigma that individuals who take part in risky behaviours experience in the community.

Harm reduction functions on a continuum with prevention and education on one side and enforcement on the other. The criminal justice apparatus cannot fix many health issues that result in risky behaviour; thus, harm reduction advocates for prevention, treatment and other healthcare services. However, critics of harm reduction often believe that tolerating these behaviours can represent an acceptance of these behaviours as acceptable in the community.

Drug Use

hr saves livesHarm reduction respects that people who use drugs will not always abstain from using drugs. Thus harm reduction strategies include needle and crack pipe distribution programs, supervised injection facilities, methadone replacement therapy, heroin maintenance programs and naloxone distribution. The primary function of needle and crack pipe distribution programs and supervised injection facilities is to provide clean needles to decrease the risk of abscesses, damage of veins, syringe sharing, HIV/HCV infections and fatal overdoses.

Methadone replacement therapy reduces harmful effects of opiates by substituting an opiate drug with an oral prescription, which eliminates the need to inject. In addition, if administered properly, individuals will not experience withdrawal symptoms and cravings. In heroin maintenance programs, people are provided with medical prescriptions for pharmaceutical heroin so that heroin-dependent individuals can use heroin in controlled environments.

Evidence has suggested that these programs can improve the health and social circumstances of participants, while also reducing costs incurred by criminalization, incarceration and health interventions. Naloxone distribution is used to counter overdose effects of opioids such as heroin or morphine overdose. The World Health Organization indicates that naloxone is one the most “essential medicines” and recommends its availability and usage. Harm reduction programs and practices help drug users develop awareness and education regarding safer drug use practices. Harm reduction programs also provide easy access to addiction counselling as drug addicts are often in contact with drug programs, social workers and healthcare staff, which can evidently lead to discontinuation of drug use as well.

Alcohol-Related Programs

The HAMS harm reduction network encourages goals for safer drinking, reduced drinking, moderate drinking and abstinence. Thus, harm reduction provides education to individuals on alcohol consumption, but allows individuals to make their own choices. In addition, the dangers of drinking and driving have also been analyzed and designated drivers or free taxi programs are used to reduce the occurrences of drunk driving accidents.

Tobacco

Harm reduction to reduce tobacco consumption takes action to lower the health risks associated with using tobacco, without engaging in abstinence from tobacco and nicotine. Such methods may include switching to lower tar cigarettes or using a non-tobacco nicotine delivery system. In addition, although discontinuing the usage of all tobacco products is encouraged, many individuals are unable or unwilling to be abstinent; thus, harm reduction can provide many benefits to these individuals.

Sex

Safe Sex
Many schools have committed to pre-teen and teen students who may be sexually active. Since teenagers may have sex, a harm reduction approach seeks to provide adolescents with the education to have safe sex such as use of birth control and condoms to prevent sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancy. These programs differ from abstinence-only education, which assumes that educating teenagers about sex will encourage them to engage in it.

Prostitution
Harm reduction provides education and advocacy for the human rights of both voluntary and coerced prostitution. Harm reduction strives to end the marginalization, isolation, powerlessness and oppression of sex works by promoting development of a critical and social consciousness. Since much disapproved behaviour from sex workers is often criminalized (ie. sex trafficking), the disproportionate amount of violence that they endure makes them increasingly vulnerable. Thus, sex workers are considered to be addicts, incompetent, diseased and desperate despite their likely circumstances of not having any other income options. Thus, instead of victimizing and infantilizing sex workers, harm reduction promotes the health, rights, and dignity of individuals impacted by sexual exchange and provides respectful and non-judgmental affirmation of power and control in society.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Youth Rising

References

BC Centre for Disease Control. (2013). Harm Reduction. Retrieved March 24, 2014,from BC Centre for Disease Control :

Canadian Harm Reduction Network. (2014). What is harm reduction? Retrieved March 24, 2014, from Canadian Harm Reduction :

Canadian Paediatric Society. (2014, Feb 1). Harm reduction: An approach to reducing risky health behaviours in adolescents. Retrieved March 24, 2014, from Canadian Paediatric Society: health-behaviours

Harm Reduction Coalition. (2014). Sex workers without boarders. Retrieved March 24, 2014, from

OHRDP. (2014). Harm Reduction. Retrieved March 24, 2014, from Ontario Harm Reduction Distribution Program : http://www.ohrdp.ca/about-us/harm-reduction/

Rhodes, T., Kimber, J., Small, W., Fitzgerald, J.,Kerr, T. et al. (2006). Public injecting and the need for ‘safer environment interventions’ in the reduction of drug-related harm. Society of the Study of Addiction, 1384-1393.

Wikepedia Encyclopedia. (2014). Harm reduction. Retrieved March 24, 2014 from

How Utilizing Green Space Helps Your Mental Health

Being “green” has become the newest fad, which few could argue is a bad thing.  The part that many aren’t aware of, even the greenest environmentalists, is that the benefits of the green movement aren’t only about clean air, water and soil. Availability of and access to plentiful green space is also strongly linked to increased mental health.  As prevention and wellness programming becomes more prominent in the provision of mental health services, it’s important to conserve and increase the availability of and access to green space, as well as incorporate the use of it into mental health programming.

greenspaceTime spent in nature, whether it’s camping in a forest, hiking in the mountains, or sitting in an urban park makes people feel happy, peaceful, rejuvenated, connected to something bigger than oneself. Green space is directly linked to decreased stress, decreased aggression, improved concentration, spiritual connectedness, and enhanced physical health. The reasons for this can be at least partially explained by the Attention Restoration Theory (ART),  which asserts that directed attention plays an important role in information processing.

Fatigue leads to negative consequences such as stress which is its resulting effects. Urban environments require significant directed attention due to larger amounts of stimulus, whereas natural settings have been found to be highly restorative to this process, reducing directed attention fatigue and stress levels.  There are also many social benefits including reduced crime and road rage, economic stimulation, and increased social networks.  All of these are factors that contribute to our mental well-being.

With more and more people living in urban environments and the availability of green space decreasing worldwide, it is becoming increasingly difficult to access the nature that provides these benefits.  Those who live in more rural areas-where forests, meadows, rivers, and lakes are right outside their front door or minutes away, don’t have to put extra effort into accessing such green space because they’re enveloped by it.  For those living in urban environments, not only do they not have immediate access to such green space, but they must also put in considerably more effort to reach comparable natural areas.

Once these areas are reached, the green space is frequently packed with other urban dwellers seeking similar benefits, disturbing the serenity nature it is supposed to provide.  Of course, there’s green space closer to home in the form of urban parks.  Some of which are fairly amazing as far as parks go, but there can be challenges to overcome in accessing those as well.  There often aren’t enough quality parks so they too can become packed with visitors, not allowing for the same restorative experience one would have in the more rural natural settings.  This is particularly problematic for those living in low-income areas who are already at higher risk for poorer mental and physical health because overall there are fewer parks in such areas, they aren’t as well maintained, and some aren’t entirely safe to be in.

While many of us are at least partially aware of the benefits we receive from nature, less accessible green space is a reality for many. The importance of conserving our natural surroundings and creating more where they don’t exist is out of our realm of consciousness.  It’s easy to get caught up in day-to-day routines and neglect the big picture not fully noticing what we’re feeling and how we’re living.  With rapid advances in technology and people not interacting with nature on a regular basis, we often forget our intimate connection to it.  Even when we’re aware that something needs to be done, it’s difficult to know what to do and taking action on any issue can sometimes feel so overwhelming that we don’t do anything.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that approximately 1 in 4 people worldwide have or will develop a mental illness in their lifetime and that the global cost of mental illness was 2.5 trillion dollars in 2010 with a projected increase to 6 trillion dollars by 2030. In addition to those with a diagnosable mental illness, the National Health Interview Survey found that 75% of the population experiences some stress every two weeks and approximately half of those individuals experience moderate to high levels of stress during those same two-weeks.  Stress is linked directly to depression and anxiety as well as most, if not all physical diseases; therefore, decreasing stress levels would increase overall well-being.  It would also reduce our society’s economic burden, which we know for the policy makers is often a higher priority than their constituents’ health.

Aside from the cost benefits of utilizing green space as a preventative measure for mental health treatment, there are also numerous other economic benefits that could also positively affect mental well-being.  Increased physical health would further reduce the cost of health care services.  Housing prices are higher in areas with easy access to parks and other outdoor areas as was demonstrated by Boston’s Big Dig project.  Boston significantly increased its green space over a 15 year span and as a result the value of those properties located in close proximity to the green space increased. Green space also attracts economic development which in turn creates employment opportunities.  Proximity to green space is also linked to worker satisfaction which increases productivity.  Reducing the economic burden could also reduce stress as stated previously would improve mental health.

With all these obvious benefits, it’s time for us as individuals and the collective to take action and really become “green.” Who wouldn’t want increased mental and physical health and more money in their pockets? Who wouldn’t want to leave a healthier environment and society all the way around for generations to come? It is our responsibility as citizens to educate ourselves and once we’ve done that, educate those around us.  Talk to family, friends, and neighbors about the benefits of availability of and access to green space.  Communicate with professional organizations and policy makers so that even if they’re educated on the issue they realize that it’s important to others.  Lobby, advocate, storm Capital Hill if necessary.  Most importantly utilize and encourage the utilization of green spaces to physically demonstrate the value of such spaces.  It sounds so simple, yet it’s often the simplest acts that make the biggest difference.

Stand up Against the Stigma of Mental Illness: The New Normal

Social isolation, discrimination, and labeling are a part of the everyday struggles faced by the mentally ill. 1 in 4 American adults suffer from a mental illness. 1 in 17 people will have a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia, major depression and bipolar disorder. The stigma of mental illness ensures the majority of affected individuals will face negative consequences in recognizing and coping with their mental health needs.

anit-stigma-campaign-namesErving Goffman defined mental illness as a blemish of character and a way to deviate from social norms. However, many of the definitions of mental illness fail to grasp that there are many other aspects to mental health. The three most influential social factors to mental illness are family stability, the placement of neighborhoods and society’s relationship to mental health problems. Mental illness does not solely arise from one’s environment. There are also biological and genetic predispositions that contribute to one’s mental health. One thing that is certain, as a society, we can change the way mental illness is perceived.

Social isolation or exclusion has been one of the most detrimental affects of the stigma, which is brought upon by labeling. The labels placed on the mentally ill by society, which the media reinforces, are dangerous, crazy, and inadequate. Due to these labels, those with mental illness get isolated from the rest of society. The practice of socialization then inevitably creates an “us vs. them” mentality, those people, the sane and the insane. Confided by these labels and exclusions, mental illness sufferers also struggle with finding their place in society.

Stand up against the stigma of mental illness is what society needs to create a new normal. This new normal will accept the importance of mental illness and will recognize treatment as equally important with physical illness. This new normal will place mental and physical health on the same spectrum. The new normal will make talking about mental illness a part of everyday conversation, and it will allow people to no longer be ashamed.

Hopefully with  the acceptance of the new normal, it will bring about affordable mental health treatment, better counseling centers in high schools and colleges, and a society that is better educated on the issues of mental illness.  With a new normal, those with mental illnesses can finally feel like they are a part of society and live without fear of  isolation, discrimination, or labeling.

Listen to Episode 1 of my podcast Anxious Ramblings:

Anxious Ramblings is a biweekly conversation about mental illness. This show will challenge society’s views on the mentally ill and help to fight against the stigma. Anxious Ramblings explores the good, the bad, and the ugly side of living with a mental illness. Here we speak about all the crazy thoughts in your head that you’re afraid to say out loud.

For this episode of Anxious Ramblings, I introduce my story with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and speak about the stigma regarding mental illnesses. The episode concludes with me sharing responses from people who want to tell the world about their mental illness.

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