In this article, the journal Territory interviews Deng Hongmei, a Chinese Christian counselor with decades of counseling experience. Deng gives moving testimony about the current emotional plight of Chinese young people, and provides penetrating analysis that is helpful to better understand the challenges that Chinese young people face today.
Depression, Anxiety, Loneliness–Where Can Young People Turn? (continued)
Generally speaking, we are all mentally ill.
Territory: The vice-president of Beijing University’s counseling center, Xu Kaiwen, has said that 40% of Beijing University’s new students are convinced that life is meaningless. He believes that some people are not actually depressed, but are suffering from “empty heart syndrome;” the core problem being a value system which lacks a supporting structure of meaningfulness or a feeling of genuine existence.
Deng Hongmei: A few psychology experts only focus on psychological illnesses in themselves or on their upbringing when they counsel, and don’t bring into the person’s life the level above these illnesses—their meaning. I essentially agree with Teacher Kaiwen’s statement, but I want to add a few things.
The generations born in the 90s and 00s have, since they were small, had their lives overwhelmed with burdensome study assignments and acute competition with others. They have been trained by their parents’ expectations for their grades to live for the sake of satisfying those hopes about their grades. But their hearts have universally been neglected, lacking the “nutrition” of love. When people cannot sense love, they feel that life has no meaning. I previously worked in a temporary post in the university hospital of Beijing University. The children there were all incredible, every kind of top student. But their drinking and eating was disordered, They were severely depressed or anxious—a lot of depressed PhD students.
When I spoke with those children who had been diagnosed with mental illnesses, I was frequently astonished by the depth of their thinking. They were pursuing spiritual freedom to the utmost of their abilities. I was very moved. They had been completely satisfied in a material sense when compared with the previous generations who had simply pursued the means to live. They thought much more about how to pursue things on a spiritual or metaphysical level. They considered “the meaning of life,” “who am I?” and so on. You could say this is a kind of progress.
But the encompassing world provides too little for them in this regard. They have been hemmed in by an extremely forceful worldview. For example, their parents and teachers have told them:
You need to go to a good primary school so you can get into a good middle school. You need to get into a good middle school so you can get into a good university. You need to get into a good university so you can get a good job. You need a good job so you can have a good salary. You need a good salary so you can buy a house, a car . . .
They have been able to stand the burdensome, dry studies of middle school, only because they believed that when they get to university, they will be able to find an outlet for their deep questions. But, honestly speaking, the university education nowadays will not be able to satisfy their expectations. This makes them extremely disappointed—they cannot find answers.
Faith can provide an outlet for this kind of spiritual or metaphysical dilemma. If people just live revolving around satisfying their own spinning about, it doesn’t matter whether they are a success or a failure, happy or unhappy—in the end they will be unable to satisfy the longings of their inmost hearts. The Christian faith says that the value of human life and its meaning come from God; we can seek God’s meaning; we can obey God’s calling on our lives. Only if a person joins their insignificantly tiny, limited life together with that all-powerful, eternal, creator Lord, can they perhaps break through the narrowness of the self and enter into the much vaster spiritual world, and discover the meaning of life.
Territory: Being a Christian psychological counselor, are you different from other counselors? What is your understanding of the nature of mental health problems?
Deng Hongmei: For a person to go into the field of psychological help and healing, apart from being equipped with specialist technical skill, they need to have a humble attitude and a deep understanding of, and mercy towards, other people. In these areas, faith has been a great help and improver to me. Just now, when discussing “empty heart syndrome,” I remembered that the very first person I counseled was a deeply depressed male student. I met him for counseling more than ten times. He often asked me, “Teacher, what actually is the meaning of life?” At the time, I still had not believed in the Lord—I just took this question as a symptom of his depression, not as a genuine question. So I never answered him directly. Of course, at that time, I myself did not have a definite answer.
Before I believed in the Lord, I, like many of my colleagues, came across patients who brought up questions having to do with the meaning of life, or about death, and felt troubled. After I believed in the Lord, I was not troubled any more. When children asked me those kinds of questions, I share with them how faith had helped me find the meaning of life, and helped me conquer my fear of death. When they listen to me, they perhaps don’t completely understand, but they feel relieved of a heavy burden: “this question does, after all, actually have an answer.” Before, people they knew would tell them these questions had no answers, and thinking about these questions would often attract the perplexity of the people around them to the point of ridicule. But now, someone had given a thorough explanation of their own thinking and experiences. For the children, this in itself is a great comfort, and gives them hope.
Looking at it from the perspective of faith, mental health problems appear because of people’s sin. In the broadest sense, we are all mentally ill. Ourselves, other people, our environments, and so on, are interwoven. Because of this, they create an extremely complicated and deep impression, causing a person to be bound up and ensnared in every kind of lie. This forms in them distorted patterns of thinking, behaving, and relating to others, and brings much suffering to the individual themselves and to other people.
Territory: After talking in depth with so many young people, what reminders for and challenges to church pastoring do you think are brought about by the younger generation’s spiritual situation?
Deng Hongmei: Churches often place great emphasis on disseminating the truth and emphasize training young people so they can serve and teach. These things are all essential for life—but taken alone, they are insufficient. A young person who, from earliest childhood, has lacked parental love and lacked the warmth of home particularly needs a home, and especially needs people who care for them like a mother or father, brother or sister. In fact, it is not just people who have lacked love since childhood who need this—every young person’s inner thoughts need to be listened to and understood if they are going to form right ways of thinking and feeling.
Solely relying on sermons cannot change a person’s life, and that is especially true for young people who are naturally inclined to react against being “talked at.” Pastors and church workers who serve young people, as well as having a burden to serve them, need to study and be equipped in the sphere of care and mentoring, in order to bring the mercy of God into young people’s hearts. This is more challenging than simply teaching, but it really can help young people open their hearts and experience the love of God, and experience what it feels like to be loved. Then “God is love,” for these kids, won’t just stop in their brains as an abstract thought.
Original Article: 抑郁、焦虑、孤独，年轻的人们该去哪儿？by 境界君 (WeChat ID: newjingjie)
Translated, edited and reposted with permission.
To read the entire article, go to Chinese Youth—Where Can They Turn?
Are you enjoying a cup of good coffee or fragrant tea while reading the latest ChinaSource post? Consider donating the cost of that “cuppa” to support our content so we can continue to serve you with the latest on Christianity in China.