BEIJING Zhang Meng, a college student from Changchun, in Chinas eastern Jilin province, was concerned that her sudden weight loss was related to fear and anxiety over the coronavirus outbreak sweeping the country.
So she called a hotline offering mental health assistance.
The doctor patiently answered my questions and gave me some useful suggestions, Zhang said.
After following his guidance, she said she is starting to feel better. The doctor played a comforting role to ease my conscience, Zhang, who didnt want to disclose her age, added.
As China struggles to get the epidemic under control, government-enforced lockdowns, transportation bans and strict quarantines have brought parts of the country to a standstill, with no end in sight. The outbreak has already claimed more than 2,000 lives, mostly in China.
Aimed at preventing the virus from spreading, the moves have had the collateral result of leaving millions of Chinese people frustrated and frightened, putting pressure on the government to offer them assistance in dealing with the emotional and psychological fallout of feeling trapped in their own homes.
Chinese state media reported last week that mental health services have been deployed across the country, and Li Keqiang, China’s premier, the No. 2 official after the president, demanded this week that further measures be taken to improve mental health offerings.
The crisis may be most acute in Wuhan, the center of the outbreak. The city has been on lockdown for four weeks, with its more than 11 million residents hunkered down inside their homes, afraid and reluctant to venture outside. Several neighboring cities have imposed the same conditions.
A woman wears a face mask as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 coronavirus near the entrance of the Peking University People’s Hospital in Beijing on Friday.Greg Baker / AFP – Getty Images
Zheng Nanru goes to college in Beijing, but has been stuck in her native Wuhan for nearly a month.
Two weeks ago, we were still able to go on grocery runs, Zheng told NBC News. Since last week, things have changed. If we do have to go out, when we come back to the compound, the security guards will spray us with disinfectant from head to toe before we enter.
People aren’t really coming out. I rarely see people walking outside in the compound. Wuhan is still very quiet.”
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Zheng said she was aware of the two 24-hour hotlines that were opened when Wuhan went into lockdown on Jan. 23, as well as other mental health assistance being offered. But she has yet to pick up the phone.
I feel like resources like those should be available to people who are on the frontline, like the medical staff who are battling the virus every day, she said. I think the hotlines should help those people more, so Id rather not take that away from them.
Chinas state health commission has released specific guidelines for local authorities to help reduce psychological distress and prevent extreme events caused by anxiety.
Online platforms offering counseling have also been popular amid the outbreak, offering more immediate help and an alternative to face-to-face consultations, which can be tricky under lockdowns.
And people have been seeking support on social media, too. A coronavirus-related hashtag, which translates into English as #howtodealwithfeelingveryanxiousathome, has racked up 290 million views on Weibo, Chinas biggest social media platform, as of Thursday.
Huang Ziwei, 25, a psychology researcher from Beijing, has volunteered to offer online counselling during the epidemic.