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2020-05-15 04:56:18

The first psychiatric clinic for COVID-19 survivors, as well as people facing mental health issues related to the pandemic, opened Thursday in Wuhan, as the central Chinese city attempts to heal the widespread psychological trauma caused by the infectious disease and a monthslong lockdown.

For the official launch Thursday, eight people — most of them elderly — visited the outpatient clinic of Zhongnan Hospital of Wuhan University seeking consultations. During the citywide lockdown, volunteer counselors manned online channels and 24-hour hotlines. But people less familiar with technology and the internet have been slower to take advantage of such services.

“Previously, many middle-aged and elderly people with psychological needs were not able to seek help through online services,” Gao Yongzhe, the hospital’s deputy chief of neurology, who was on duty at the clinic Thursday, told Sixth Tone. He added that these two demographics represent the majority of all COVID-19 patients in China.

The clinic — which will receive visitors semiweekly, on Tuesdays and Thursdays — offers consultations and therapies based on diagnoses of the patients’ psychological issues, according to Gao. While people may be experiencing pain or a range of trauma symptoms, such as stress and depression, it takes extra awareness to see that their discomfort is related to their mental rather than physical state, the doctor said.

“Some people aren’t aware of this, and think there must be something wrong with their body,” Gao said.

As the inland transit and manufacturing hub has begun to recover after its 76-day lockdown, thousands of COVID-19 survivors have been given the all-clear. However, many continue to deal with feelings of guilt and shame, as well as fears that the disease might return. Those brave enough to resume their lives often feel ostracized by others who view them as potential disease-spreaders.

According to a national health guideline published Thursday about the recovery of COVID-19 survivors, psychological dysfunction involves emotional responses, cognitive changes, behavior disorders, and physiological reactions. While a condition like acute stress disorder may be quick to detect, chronic psychological disorders tend to emerge over time, which is why they require extra attention, specialists say.

“Take post-traumatic stress disorder,” Gao said. “We may be seeing more cases three months down the road.”

Staff at Zhongnan Hospital said that while the psychiatric clinic is specifically aimed at treating COVID-19 survivors, it is also open to the general public if they have COVID-19-related psychological needs.

Xiao Jinsong, a senior counselor at the hospital who consulted with both patients and medics during Wuhan’s lockdown, and who now works at the clinic, shared his experience with a recent case: a man who lost a family member to COVID-19 and came to him Thursday for help.

“He had sleep disturbances, anxiety, depression, and the general feeling that life had become meaningless. This was a typical case of psychological trauma,” Xiao, who is also head of the Hubei Psychological Consultant Association, told Sixth Tone. He prescribed the patient medicine and encouraged him to organize fun activities with his family and consider reading novels when he was alone.

The COVID-19 pandemic is creating mounting psychological pressure in hard-hit areas, as people are forced to tackle isolation, disease, death, and abrupt changes to their lives. The United Nations has warned of a potential global mental health crisis. In China, nearly 30% of over 25,000 respondents said they suffered from depression and anxiety related to the pandemic, according to a survey released in April.

Editor: David Paulk.

(Header image: Gao Yongzhe, a neurologist working at the newly opened psychiatric clinic at Zhongnan Hospital, speaks with a COVID-19 survivor, Wuhan, Hubei province, May 14, 2020. Zhao Jun/People Visual)