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The disease ‘social phobia’ of young Chinese

ChinaMany teenagers are afraid to meet and communicate with people around them, and spend a lot of time chatting online because of the “social phobia”.

In recent weeks, Chinese social media has spread the question: “If you were about to be bitten by a tiger, would you call for help?”. The most common user response was: “No. I could die, but I won’t ask for help because I’ll have to say hello to someone.”

This is an exaggerated and extreme expression of “social phobia”, also known as shekong in Chinese. The term has become popular in recent times, describing young people who are afraid of socializing in the real world. Shekong-related topics are hotly discussed on Weibo and Zhihu apps.

About 80% of university students in China said they had symptoms of social phobia or mild anxiety disorder, according to a survey of 4,800 volunteers by the China Youth Daily in November. last year. About 7% have more severe manifestations.

Medical research conducted by US and Canadian experts, published in the journal PLOS One in 2020 also shows that the prevalence of anxiety disorders among young people in 7 countries, including China, is increasing. up. In China, 32% of 16- to 29-year-olds reach the threshold of social phobia.

Huang Jing, a psychologist working in Hangzhou, said the popularity of social media and improved internet connectivity is the reason for the increase in psychological phobia.

“The obvious situation in today’s teenagers, who are at an inquisitive and exploratory age, is that they often refuse to leave the house or meet or socialize with anyone,” Jing said.

This is a global problem, she says, as social media dominates daily life. However, its influence in China is greater than in other parts of the world, especially among teenagers.

“They are too dependent on online communication,” she said.

Li Li, a 17-year-old girl from Shanghai, said she was always at home on Saturdays and Sundays after a week at school.

“I can talk a lot online. But when I meet people outside, I become shy, don’t know what to say. Maybe communicating online is safer. At least you don’t have to face them.” , Li Li said.

Chinese teenagers are afraid to socialize due to social phobia.  Photo: Handout

Chinese teenagers shy away from socializing due to social phobia. Image: Handout

Another reason for social phobia is that many Chinese teenagers were born during the one-child policy period. They grew up alone, being overprotected by their grandparents and parents, said Ji Longmei, a senior psychological consultant at the Shanghai Mental Health Counseling Center.

“On the one hand, they don’t have any siblings to play with. On the other hand, they face many expectations from their families about academic achievement, amid fierce educational competition. Therefore, they will spend most of their time at home studying by themselves,” she said.

She told of a client whose son was a doctorate, but he was unable to work or date women because of his social anxiety. He couldn’t do anything but study.

“She had to take care of everything for her children, from tying shoelaces,” said Ji.

Even so, she believes that many young Chinese are abusing the term social phobia. According to her, not everyone who self-identifies as having social phobia actually has this problem. They sometimes use it as an excuse to refuse to attend certain events, meet family and relatives.

Ji said that young Chinese people are at a stage where mental health is clearly understood.

“A decade or two ago, nobody with depression dared to openly admit this, because they found it embarrassing. Today, it’s so widely accepted, no one is afraid of it anymore.” she said.

Thuc Linh (According to SCMP)

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