Monday, October 26, 2015

The Wacky World of Chinese Psychiatry

"Do you suffer from a mental illness?  If so, explain."

That was one of the questions on the visa form the first time I came to China.  Of course I checked no, because otherwise I wouldn't have gotten in, but as a matter of fact I do: I have OCD, and I take meds for it.

Meds which, at the moment, are running fairly low.  This means that one of these weekends, I'll have to shell out a few thousand kuai for a weekend in Beijing to visit an expat-run hospital.  Why not a local hospital, you ask?  Chinese hospitals are bad enough when you have a cold: now imagine telling them you need Head Meds.

Here's what happened the last time I stuck a toe in the Wacky World of Chinese Psychiatry.  It was about two years ago, in Hangzhou.  I needed to get a mental health check for a job I was applying to--a routine procedure in decent places, but as Gollum said, silly hobbitses, this isn't decent places.  This is a Chinese public hospital.

Apparently in China, "Mental health check" is a euphemism for "interrogation of political dissidents and/or the criminally insane".  But I head to at least try.  More or less knowing from the start that my endeavor was doomed, I headed down to the local public hospital.  I was talking with a nice doctor who spoke some English, and she was baffled by the idea of giving mental exams to the non-straitjacketed.  "Why would you need that?" she asked.

"Well, in some countries we have to pass a mental exam to work as a teacher." I said. "Basically all I need is a paper that says 'Bro is not crazy' with a doctor's signature."

She called around to find a doctor with the qualifications to make such a statement, apparently a rarity over here.  Eventually she ended up calling the infamous #7 Hospital, which is essentially an insane asylum circa 1940 and figures prominently in discussions with Chinese 6th graders (e.g. teaching Alice goes to school by bike quickly devolves into "Haha, teacher goes to #7 hospital by pig".  An actual quote.)

With a look of resignation, my doctor friend hung up the phone. "They won't do it." she said.

Figures. "Why not?"

"Well, how to say in English..." she thought for a moment. "he said that Chinese people, white people and black people have different brains.  So he can't give you a test for Chinese people."


Let me remind you that the person who said this is a medical professional.  Let that sink in.  In fact, go ahead and reread that, I'll wait.  An MD just said to me that white brains, Chinese brains, and black brains needed separate (but equal?) evaluations.  Three guesses which one's the top of the pyramid.

Of course, we shouldn't shoot the messenger.  My doctor friend was very sympathetic and did help me schedule my physical for the next morning, which was nice.  I guess she realized it wasn't my fault I was born with a tiny white brain and enormous pointy nose.

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