China Long Avoided Talking About Mental Health. Then Covid Hit.

China’s fight against the coronavirus was mostly over, but Zhang Xiaochun, a doctor in Wuhan, was sinking into depression, convinced she had failed as a daughter and mother. She agonized over her decision to keep working even after her father fell critically ill. She worried about her young daughter, whom she had frequently left alone at home.

But rather than hide those feelings, as would have been common just a few years ago in a country where mental illness has long been stigmatized, Dr. Zhang consulted therapists. When friends and colleagues checked in on her, she openly acknowledged that she was struggling.

“If we can face such a huge disaster as this outbreak, then how could we not dare to talk about something so small as some mental health problems?” said Dr. Zhang, an imaging specialist.

The coronavirus pandemic, which started in China, has forced the country to confront the issue of mental health, a topic long ignored because of scarce resources and widespread social stigmas. In the Mao era, mental illness was declared a bourgeois delusion and the country’s psychiatric system was dismantled. Even today, discrimination persists, and many people with mental illnesses are shunned, hidden at home or