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We pay psychologists, so why not suicide hotline counselors?

Christine Zhou

“Given the alarming rates of anxiety, loneliness, suicidal ideation, depression and substance abuse nationwide” David Bornstein said in The New York Times, “this work warrants major attention.” He was referring to suicide prevention workers in America, but it applies in China. Type the word ‘suicide’ into a search engine in China, and the top match is a 24-hour free hotline with eight phone numbers spanning nationwide. Yet beneath the surface is a broken system, full of unpaid workers on the frontline of something that can make the difference between life and death. If we pay our psychologists –how then possibly, could we not do the same for our hotline workers?

The hotline is the largest suicide prevention platform in China, with nearly 2,000 consultants who help with training and supervision. This however, has been undercut by its MPO management model, which essentially means people who work there are unpaid volunteers. Predictably, this creates problems. A China Youth Daily report found that out of 18 hotlines phoned repeatedly over 9 days, only 4 actually answered.

In China, mental health isn’t seen on equal footing with physical health. For some, mental disorders are simply dismissed as low moods, leaving severe underlying issues unresolved. Additionally, people’s lack of awareness of suicidal behavior means that few know where or how to reach out for help, limiting the development of services, and remaining something the government has done little to support.

Moreover, our existing mental health system in China is inadequate in dealing with suicides. There’s not only a serious shortage of mental health professionals generally, but more than 90 percent that do exist are concentrated in psychiatric hospitals, where focus is on inpatient care, leaving most hotline workers undertrained in suicide prevention.

If suicide hotlines want a brighter future, the government has to help. According to Wang Xingjuan, founder of a women’s counseling center in Beijing, "the crisis intervention hotline in Tokyo was set up by the Tokyo government, and every household has its number in the yellow pages." So if Japan can have a dedicated hotline team, why can’t China? Active in many aspects of our lives, the Chinese government seems sadly absent where it’s most needed, at the crisis point of preserving life for some of its most at-risk citizens. And at nearly 1.4 billion people, it’s not only a systemic problem that puts blood on the hands of those who ignore it, but it’s a crisis desperately in need of immediate moral redress.

It’s time the government wakes up to the damage being done. It’s time we stop ignorance from driving many to unnecessary, early graves. And, it’s time suicide hotline counselors are paid in China.

Works cited page

Bornstein, David. “A Crisis Line That Calms With Texting and Data.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 12 Dec. 2017, www.nytimes.com/2017/12/12/opinion/a-crisis-line-that-calms-with-texting-and-data.html.

Siwei Li. “‘The Crisis Of "Psychological Crisis Intervention Hotline.” " The Crisis Of "Psychological Crisis Intervention Hotline - China Youth Daily, 22 Oct. 2013, zqb.cyol.com/html/2013-10/22/nw.D110000zgqnb_20131022_1-03.htm.

Chunzhi, Li. “Psychological Public Welfare ‘Hope 24 Hotline’: The Guarantee Line Of Life” China net Henan channel, 13 Jan. 2019, henan.china.com/edu/xl/xlsx/2019/0113/25307610.html.

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