BEIJING, Aug. 9 (Xinhua) -- Chinese society needs to better appreciate the "psychological pressure" faced by officials after a string of suicides among them, experts have said.
Six local officials reportedly committed suicide nationwide in July. Two of them -- Zhang Bocheng, a health bureau official in Henan Province, and Wang Yunqing, a senior state-owned assets administration official in Hubei Province -- suffered "serious depression", according to their suicide notes.
On June 5, Chen Baifeng, vice mayor of Weifang City, Shandong Province, hanged himself in his house. Relatives said he had been "depressed" for many years.
The unusual deaths have led to debate about how to stop this happening in future. It is hardly surprising that officials feel under strain. They face growing scrutiny as to their performances, and China's unprecedented anti-corruption campaign has had an extremely frightening impact, according to some.
In a number of cases, depression is simply an illness, not necessarily related to external factors.
"It deserves our reflection that the officials, who were respected and admired for their career and status, finally chose suicide, said Du Zhizhou, an academic in anti-corruption research at Beihang University.
A positive value system should be advocated in society and multiple ways adopted to alleviate psychological pressure, he suggested. "More people should realize that cracking down on corrupted officials is a long and arduous process. Everyone must have opportunities for a good career and life despite the challenges."
Understandably, officials were reluctant to go on record about the pressure they face, but some spoke to Xinhua on the condition that they would not be identified.
"It is essential to grow the economy at a certain speed. Otherwise, problems will arise. How to maintain the speed is no small challenge for grass-roots cadres," said an agricultural county government head surnamed Liu in north China.
If basic development goals are not realized, superior leaders, colleagues and the general public will doubt your abilities, said the county official.
He pointed particularly to difficulties in deciding how to distribute limited financial resources and implement preferential government policies.
"Petitions, media exposure and production safety problems: all these may veto my official career," said Liu.
"I collect all kinds of data everyday. Working overtime is common for me," said a public servant in a land administration department in a Chinese city.
Another provincial official who declined to identified cited China's ongoing extravagance and corruption crackdown as a major source of worry.
Constant mental pressure is an important factor leading to depression, said Hu Jian, a member of the Chinese Medical Association.
The rise of depression among officials is in accord with year-on-year increases in depression cases among the general public, Hu pointed out. There are no official statistics on this topic, but depressed people account for at least 25 percent of patients in psychiatric departments in hospitals.
It is undoubtedly important to raise awareness of depression across the board and dispel some of the stigma that surrounds it.
Doctors will always recognize depression as a disease, no matter who the patient is, said Hu, adding that the public should be clear about what constitutes depression so that they can help sufferers find timely treatment.
The suicide of officials suspected of graft also raises controversy about whether and how posthumous investigations should be carried out.
On Thursday, a probe was launched into two deputies of Li Haihua, chairman of the standing committee of the legislature of Xiaogan City, Hubei Province, who jumped to his death from a building in early July. Li claimed in a suicide note that he suffered several diseases.
Under legal procedure, judicial authorities should not handle reports submitted to them after an official's death about his suspected corruption, said Luo Meng, an anti-corruption official in Beijing.