Pop singer's death sparks concern over depression amid China's fast-paced growth

CoCo Lee, a Hong Kong-born pop star best known for her powerful voice and live performances, died by suicide at the age of 48 on Wednesday.

CoCo Lee, a Hong Kong-born pop star best known for her powerful voice and live performances, died by suicide at the age of 48 on Wednesday.

The shocking news of her untimely demise has once again sparked concern over depression in China amid the country's fast-paced growth.

The famous singer who started her career about three decades ago was battling depression for years, according to a statement posted by her sister on social media.

The tragic news quickly spread like wildfire, as her fans flooded social media platforms with grief and heartfelt condolence messages, with people expressing their profound astonishment and disbelief.

"You were always smiling like sunshine in the video. We can recall your laughter and your positive attitude toward life, but why would you leave us in this way?" commented a netizen on the Twitter-like Sina Weibo.

"This is so sad. She was always cheerful and happy. It just goes to show, people who appear to be the happiest often are battling the biggest demon," wrote a YouTube user.

Raised in the United States, Lee had garnered a substantial fan base both within China and internationally. One of the standout moments in her career was her captivating rendition of the Oscar-nominated song "A Love Before Time" from the film "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon."

The stark contrast between her vibrant stage persona and her unfortunate suicide attempt at home sparked widespread discussions about depression among the general public.

The hidden demon

"Most people hold a stereotypical view of depression, assuming that only those who appear gloomy and disinterested in life are affected. However, it is important to understand that people who maintain a cheerful demeanor and are carrying on with their daily life normally can also be experiencing depression," said Xu Tao, a senior doctor at the Hebei provincial mental health center.

Speaking to Xinhua, he explained that people suffering from depression might not even recognize their own condition or may choose to conceal their melancholic side, presenting a carefree facade to others. "This characteristic of the disease makes it hard to detect, often leaving the patient alone without help."

According to the National Health Commission (NHC), the prevalence rate of depression in China was 2.1 percent in 2019, and that of anxiety disorders stood at 4.98 percent.

Xu attributed the rise in mental health cases partially to the rapid development of modern society, wherein individuals face heightened pressure and an overwhelming influx of information. "This has resulted in issues such as high blood pressure, heart problems, compromised immunity, and disrupted gastrointestinal digestion. At the same time, patients may experience insomnia, anxiety, and headaches," he said.

Furthermore, due to a lack of public understanding, the illness often goes unnoticed. "The patients themselves may perceive it as a source of embarrassment, while their acquaintances dismiss it as mere sentimentality," he added.

Recently, 35-year-old Xiao Yi (pseudonym) from Changsha, capital of central China's Hunan Province, was diagnosed with mid-stage depression. In reality, Xiao had been struggling for approximately a year, but initially, no one suspected depression due to his sociable and lively demeanor in public settings. However, when alone, Xiao felt overwhelmed by work-related stress and a lack of support from his family, causing him to feel suffocated.

He is now on medication under the guidance of qualified doctors and receiving psychological counseling.

Zhou Xuhui, director of the mental health department at the Hunan brain hospital, noted that there's a concerning trend of increasing depression cases among younger people. "Their condition cannot improve without an outlet for the negative emotions and access to standardized psychological diagnosis and treatment," he said.

Lifting patients out of abyss

Many non-government organizations in China are actively working to support people like Xiao.

Ni Wenping works with one such organization named the "Hope Line," a hotline set up to help people in distress. She told Xinhua that they have a total of 435 volunteers, including more than 200 operators. They receive an average of 300 phone calls every day.

"Some of these calls are from students who are experiencing difficulties in concentrating in regular schooling, while some are from relatives of the patients seeking help," she said, adding that the helpline adopts a compassionate approach and volunteers try to listen patiently to the callers.

Ni noted that prompt intervention is important because those seeking help are mostly patients with relatively mild symptoms. "People with severe symptoms often struggle to seek help on their own," she said. "We are trying to help them in preventing the disease from getting worse."

China's Ministry of Education and 16 other authorities jointly issued an action plan in May on enhancing mental health education at schools, colleges and universities. According to the plan, by 2025, 95 percent of schools, colleges and universities in the country are expected to have full-time or part-time mental health counselors.

The senior doctor Xu Tao emphasized the importance of offering greater understanding and care to people with depression and the need to avoid blind judgment. "Be a good listener, and encourage them to recognize their own strengths and personal worth and to seek professional help," he said.

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