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A club has been set up in Shanghai to offer psychological support to children with chronic diseases, to help them recover and integrate at school and in society.
The club, the first of its kind in China, is part of the Children"s Hospital of Fudan University and initially will work with children who have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
It will gradually expand to help young people who regularly visit for medical consultations on 22 types of chronic disease, such as leukemia, autism and kidney disease.
"We will build a choir and organize art classes and regular sports where psychological elements will be infused," said Fu Lili, director of the hospital"s social work department. "Art therapy and psychological support are good for helping such children get through difficulties and are beneficial for their all-around development."
Experts say children with chronic diseases are prone to negative emotions and mental health issues - such as anxiety, nervousness and irritability - because of the long medical treatment, relapses of illness, and the economic burden on their families.
"That explains why we often find that the expression in the eyes of such children is different from their peers, and why they are usually more thoughtful and mature," said Dong Jingcheng, director of the university"s Research Institute of Traditional Chinese Medicine Integrated with Western Medicine.
"In fact, we found in a study that even among adults the incidence rate of psychological problems accompanying a tumor is as high as 40 percent," he said.
A survey by the Fudan University Children"s Hospital found that 16 of the 52 children aged 8 to 17 who were hospitalized in November and December for illnesses such as chronic kidney diseases harbored feelings of depression, and two had suicidal tendencies.
More than 80 percent of the respondents said they felt frustrated and had little passion for anything, and nearly two in three said they felt tired and had no vitality.
"The occurrence of depression among children with chronic diseases is nearly three times that among their healthy peers," said Zhu Daqian, a member of the branch of behavioral medicine under the Shanghai Medical Association. "Some young patients may become less willing to talk and not as cooperative with parents as before.
"Doctors have encountered extreme cases where young chronic disease sufferers showed pains and ailments that were hard to explain and that were finally found to be caused by long-term serious depression," she said.
A mother whose 9-year-old son was diagnosed last month with a neurodevelopmental deficit that leads to frequent anger and irritability said she sensed the boy has already shouldered too much pressure.
"He takes medicine on a daily basis now. He is very sensitive and feels like there must be something seriously wrong," said the mother, who only gave her surname, Zhang.
Fu from the hospital"s social work department said various activities have been started for children, such as cooking competitions for those with kidney diseases to promote a healthy diet, sports matches for those with diabetes, and a basketball team for autistic children to improve their sociability.