Mental Health and Wellbeing The 4th ABCF-ZISU Youth Forum

Among the rich insights that came to light during the fourth Youth Forum organised jointly by members of the Association for Barbados-China Friendship and students from the Zhejiang International Studies University in Hangzhou, China were the following: anxiety and depression are the most common manifestations of mental health stress; the warning signs of mental health problems are not always apparent to the person under stress; the individual’s own sense of shame often makes them reluctant to seek help with mental health issues; remote working brings with it new and different types of anxiety about deadlines and what supervisors expect with regard to working hours, etc.; and though digital communications can provide new channels of help, social media can also make one feel inadequate. The forum took place by webinar on Friday January 5, Barbados time. (At that time it was already January 6 in Hangzhou, which is 12 hours ahead of Barbados.)


The evening’s discussion was motivated by four presentations by students. The first presenter was Precious Doyle, student of French and Management Studies at the University of the West Indies, whose focus was on why it is important that we be aware of the factors that affect our mental health. They include stresses arising from difficult family relationships, sexual health, whether and when to have children, child rearing, and the choice of birth control methods, among other causes. To cope with these stresses and maintain healthy minds it helps to increase physical activity. In some circumstances, it might be wise to choose a less demanding job. The payoff from improving one’s mental health is increased productivity at work, greater self-confidence, and more fulfilling social relationships.


Our second presentation was by Ms ZONG Jaiyi (Chinese practice is to place the family name first), a Tourism major at Zhejiang International Studies University. She began with the story of how awareness that she was endangering her own mental health motivated her to pull herself out of a bout of binge eating depression, in the wake of an exam failure. Mental health issues are common in society, she noted, affecting 54 million people in China alone. Symptoms of mental health challenges include confusion, difficulty in reasoning, suspicion of others, paranoia, and hostility towards others. There are also symptoms that may be less obvious to those affected by mental illness, including anorexia and over-eating, experiencing rapid fluctuation of emotional highs and lows, and difficulties with performing everyday tasks. Jaiyi concluded that it was vital to recognise and deal with mental problems because mental, physical and social functions are interdependent, and failure to address mental health issues could in time impair one’s physical health and the quality of one’s life.


Next was another ZISU Tourism Management major, Ms XU Jiangnan, who explained why it was important to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness, and offered some suggestions for achieving that objective. People suffering from mental illness often have a strong sense of shame, which makes them unwilling to seek the help they need. Their family and friends may be dismissive of their problems, and may disapprove of or ridicule attempts to seek needed professional help. Jiangnan cited data showing that only one-third of those suffering from mental health issues in China seek professional help. Her presentation concluded with useful suggestions for reducing the stigma associated with mental illness and overcoming the reluctance to seek help. At the personal level, we should practice self-love, reminding ourselves that our feelings matter. Families and friends should offer support, and encourage their loved ones to seek the professional help they need. At the level of the wider society, attitudes need to change, with a recognition of the individual’s right to express feelings of happiness, sorrow and even confusion.


ZHANG Zhiyuan, the final presenter, a Chinese language major at ZISU, discussed coping with stress and anxiety in the digital age. She gave the example of the rising prevalence of remote working, which blurs the distinction between personal and professional life. Employers can intrude into personal life with calls at unusual hours, and failure to respond quickly may create anxiety. Personal issues may also create distraction from job-related concerns. Zhiyuan provided suggestions to alleviating these stresses, including listening to music, enjoyment of nature, meditation and other practices of mindfulness, and keeping a journal. A safe environment should be created for those seeking professional help. Zhiyuan concluded that the digital age presents unique challenges, but when we are stressed we need to keep hope alive, and seek professional help when we need to.


During the question and answer session it was mentioned that a new peer-to-peer website was now available in China where one can unburden oneself to sympathetic strangers. Distractions such as vigorous exercise provide an interval of breathing space for us to get hold of our emotions and put us in a better frame of mind, even when exercise per se does not contribute to our healing process. The importance of having safe spaces where one can unburden oneself without fear of emotional pressure was emphasized. Such spaces could be in the company of close friends, companions and relatives whom one can trust to provide support and comfort without offering judgment.


Participants all agreed that the webinar was informative, comforting and even inspirational, and we all left with a sense that we had gained something useful from the session. The presentations were all of a high standard, the discussion was lively, and the moderators managed the discussions very skillfully.


DeLisle Worrell

February 3, 2024

Precious Doyle is a 21-year-old student of French and Management studies at the University of the West Indies- Cave Hill campus. Fascinated with the humanities, Precious wishes to become a language translator, and learn about how the arts, history and literature can add value in today’s technology-driven world
Precious Doyle is a 21-year-old student of French and Management studies at the University of the West Indies- Cave Hill campus. Fascinated with the humanities, Precious wishes to become a language translator, and learn about how the arts, history and literature can add value in today’s technology-driven world