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Sad Young Chinese Suffer Ancient And Modern Pressures

BEIJING (dpa) – China’s one-child family planning policy, aimed at stopping the 1.3 billion population further swelling, has spawned a new generation of millions of single children facing a pincer movement of ancient family values and modern peer pressure.

A growing number of those born since China introduced the policy in the 1970s are failing to cope, falling victim instead to depression and other forms of mental illness, Chinese psychiatrists say.

“Their personalities differ a lot” from children of multi-child families, says Dr Zhou Dongfeng of the Beijing University Mental Health Institute.

“It is very important for society and families to pay attention to their mental health and personality development,” Zhou says of the single children.

Many single children suffer from hyperactivity, and are often irritable and lack concentration, Zhou says.

A study of nearly 9,000 primary and nursery school children in Tianjin city last year found 31 per cent of two to four year-olds and 37 per cent of children aged five to six had psychological problems, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

Associated behaviour included aggression, excessive shyness, hypochondria, fear, anxiety and self-contempt, the survey found.

“Because of being indulged by their parents, the only child in the family has less opportunity to temper him or herself and to communicate with his or her peers,” Tianjin health official Liu Xunian told the agency.

The problem is already reflected in high schools and universities.

A survey of 16 colleges found that most drop-outs left because of mental illness, with a higher rate of psychological problems among post-graduates, state media said last month.

“With social development, competition is becoming more and more fierce and more and more young people feel puzzled and confused”, says Shanghai psychiatry professor Ji Jianlin.

“The rate of depression is getting higher” among young people, Ji says.

Drug and alcohol abuse are rising but few people seek early treatment, making them more likely to become addicts, Zhou says.

Suicide is the biggest cause of death among young people in China, the Beijing Youth Daily said recently.

“When meeting difficulty or depression, some young people choose suicide as a way out. The reason is related to a lack of education about life from society, schools and families, and also to the fragile psychology of young people,” Zheng Ning, a lecturer at a Beijing adolescents’ advisory centre, told the newspaper.

Worried about the growing pressure on youngsters, the government has ordered education departments and universities to teach students about mental health and to employ more counsellors.

Last year it introduced a regulation limiting homework for younger children.

China has some 16 million mental health patients, though many more are believed to be suffering in silence.

The country’s overall suicide rate is about 22.2 per 100,000, higher than the world average but not one of the highest, researchers say.

But for women aged 20-25 in rural areas, the rate soars to 40-50 suicides per 100,000, a major reason why more than half of the world’s female suicides occur in China.

Young women in rural areas face “many more problems” from “social factors”, Ji says.

Social factors may include traditional demands from in-laws and the modern pressure to produce a boy from a single birth, but researchers remain puzzled and are conducting a large-scale study to be used to improve suicide prevention among women in China’s rural areas.

In urban areas young men suffer more mental health problems.

China was shocked by the case of 17-year-old Xu Li, who battered his mother to death with a hammer in Jinhua city in eastern China’s Zhejiang province.

Floods of letters to state media blamed China’s “child-centred family life and highly oppressive educational method”, the official China Daily said.

After his arrest, the boy told journalists he killed his mother because she gave him too much pressure to succeed at school.

“Xu had been living in a constrained environment. However, there was no one who really understood him and could share his innermost feelings,” psychologist Li Weijian told China Daily.

“My mother and I cried because I did not enter the Jinhua No.1 senior high school. Studying had become the only content of my life. My only pleasure, playing football, had been strongly forbidden by my mother,” Xu said in a television interview after the murder.

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