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This event is part of the Lau China Policy Series 2021, China in the World.

In China, as elsewhere, the COVID-19 pandemic brought with it a significant mental health burden in society as a result of lockdowns, anxiety and isolation, alongside economic and social determinant factors.

China experienced the same kinds of challenges as most other places. This included the pressing need for digitalisation of its health and mental health systems to respond to necessary measures of prevention against infection but also to the future of economic development. Digital mental health has existed previously, but the pandemic made it a whole brave new world to explore in the age of artificial intelligence in which China has a role to play. COVID-19 was in this respect, an accelerator but also a common signifier for change.

This paper therefore focuses on the common challenge of mental wellbeing in the digital age and COVID-19, and the ways in which, like any other government, China has tried to meet these challenges.


Dr Carla De Utra Mendes
Dr Carla De Utra Mendes

Dr Carla de Utra Mendes holds a PhD in Global Studies, undertaken in Macau, S.A.R, China (awarded by the University of Saint Joseph, Macau S.A.R., China and the Catholic University of Portugal), as former fellow of the Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT) of the Ministry for Science, Technology and Higher Education of Portugal. She is currently completing an MA in Psychoanalytic Studies at the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust in London, U.K.

Since her Masters degree in Contemporary Culture and New Technologies (Faculty of Human and Social Sciences of the NOVA University Lisbon, Portugal), Carla has been focusing on East Asia. She develops interdisciplinary research on contemporary China. Her interests range from culture and society to global mental health.

Carla has collaborated and contributed to institutions such as Freud Museum London, Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation (Portugal), Culturgest (Portugal) and Orient Foundation Museum (Portugal) and publications such as China Daily.


Professor Heleen Riper
Professor Heleen Riper

Professor Heleen Riper is professor of eMental-Health at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (Department Clinical, Developmental and Neuro Psychology, section Clinical Psychology, The Netherlands) and works as well at GGZ inGeest a large mental health service organization in the Amsterdam region (Research Department), Amsterdam, the Netherlands. She is honorary professor Telepsychiatry at the University of Southern Denmark (Faculty of Health Sciences, Odense) and a visiting professor at the University of Turku, Faculty of Medicine, Finland.

Over the past 20 years her research focus has been on the development, evaluation and implementation of innovative eMental-Health interventions for common mental disorders from prevention to treatment. The scope of her current research activities includes the use of mobile health, and combined online and face to face (‘blended’) treatments for depression, anxiety and substance use related disorders. New methodological challenges include the development and evaluation of mobile ecological momentary assessments and interventions (EMA/EMI), patient-centered design and digital phenotyping. She has opted for an international perspective and collaboration throughout her academic career and acted as Principal Investigator of over 15 large scale European Union projects and reviewer for Research Funding Organizations globally. She was Principal Investigator/coordinator of the European Comparative Effectiveness study on Internet Interventions for Depression (E-COMPARED, She has published over 300 (international) peer reviewed papers and book chapters within the digital mental health domain (H index 51 as per 2021). In 2020 she has been ranked by the Web of Science™ in the top of 1% mostly cited researchers in her cross-sectional domain. In 2013 Heleen Riper (co) founded the Journal of Internet Interventions of which she is associated editor (published by Elsevier) and from 2014 - 2016 she was President of the International Society for Research on Internet Interventions (ISRII). Since 2018 she is director of the DIFFER EU-Consortium (Digitial Framework For E-health Research) which provides a technological not-for-profit platform (Moodbuster 2.0) for mental-health researchers who aim to develop, evaluate and implement the digital interventions ( ). By June2021 she will become chief section editor on digital mental health for Frontiers of Psychiatry and Digital Health of Frontiers.

Professor Jie Yang
Professor Jie Yang

Professor Jie Yang is professor of anthropology at Simon Fraser University.  She was trained in linguistic anthropology, and her current research focuses on psychological/medical anthropology, specifically, mental health and psychology in China. Her first and ongoing project explores the psychological and emotional effects of state-enterprise restructuring on Chinese workers since the 1990s. She has recently started a new project on the mental health of government officials (the phenomenon of guan xinbing, “officials’ heartache”). She is author of Unknotting the Heart: Unemployment and Therapeutic Governance in China (2015, Cornell University Press; winner of Francis Hsu Book Prize) and Mental Health in China: Change, Tradition, and Therapeutic Governance (2018, Polity). She edited The Political Economy of Affect and Emotion in East Asia (2014, Routledge).


Professor Astrid Nordin

Professor Astrid Nordin holds the Lau Chair of Chinese International Relations in the Lau China Institute. She is also Senior Fellow of the Institute for Social Futures, and Associate Research Fellow at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs.

Astrid’s research develops critical conceptual tools that draw on Chinese and other global traditions of thought, and uses these to understand global challenges as they relate to China’s growing global role - from the Belt and Road Initiative, through sustainable cities, to practices of censorship and resistance. Her favourite thing about her job is learning new things from exciting people, and she welcomes suggestions for collaboration relating to her expertise.

Before joining King’s in 2021, Astrid was Professor of World Politics and Founding Director of Lancaster University China Centre. She has significant experience developing institutional partnerships with Chinese institutions, setting up and leading academic organisations, and collaborating on interdisciplinary projects across humanities and the social and natural sciences. She also has a background in journalism, and great enthusiasm for working with non-academic stakeholders in the arts, policy, and media. She has studied at Peking University, Jilin University, City University Hong Kong, the University of Warwick, and the University of Manchester.


In China, as elsewhere, the COVID-19 pandemic brought with it a significant mental health burden in society as a result of lockdowns, anxiety and isolation, alongside economic and social determinant factors. As early as February 2020, a nationwide survey in China estimated that as many as 35 per cent of its respondents were suffering from some form of psychological distress due to the outbreak of the then epidemic.1 Despite a rapid and comprehensive psychological provision response from the Chinese Government,2 the impact on its mental health system was significant, bringing increased pressure on a system already fragile and with uneven geographical distribution.3 It is important to remember that, for all the arguments about the origination of COVID-19, in terms of its impact on the lives and wellbeing of individuals, China experienced the same kinds of challenges as most other places, including the US and Europe. Because of the fierce geopolitical arguments since early 2020 about the pandemic and the relationship between China and the rest of the world, this issue of how individuals, despite the countries and cultures in which they are physically located, have all experienced similar levels of anxiety and distress is important to keep sight of. This paper therefore focuses on the common challenge of mental wellbeing, and the ways in which, like any other government, China has tried to meet these challenges.

For global mental health, the pandemic both became a significant added challenge and provoked a search for solutions in line with the need for sustainability in existing mental health services.4 To tackle this global burden on systems, a timely United Nations Policy Document in May 2020 set out a series of recommendations for existing mental health systems, calling attention to the opportunity to integrate innovation.5 This is particularly relevant for China, whose innovation-driven model of development not only has, and will have, profound systemic implications and potential for several applications, but will also carry incredible risks – for the health system in general, and for the mental health system in particular.

Up until the COVID-19 pandemic, several important mental health policies, laws and regulations on one side, and technological innovation on the other, had been elaborated in the prior decade or so, including the adoption of e-health policies in China concurrent with international developments.6 However, a clearly defined policy on digital mental health is lacking. Internationally, the COVID-19 pandemic was considered a great accelerator and a call for the adoption of ‘e-mental health’,7 precipitating institutions and governments to define andre-structure their digital strategies to adapt to the current and future realities. In China’s case, at least since 2015 when the Internet Plus《互联网+》model was announced, combined with the Healthy China Initiative 2030《健康中国2030》announced in 2016, ambitions towards a national-scale digital health system have been on the government’s agenda, amplified by the needs of the COVID-19 pandemic response. In this fast-developing and complex landscape, the question of digital mental health in China is not then when it will happen but how it will develop to improve and strengthen the existing mental health system. In this paper, we will explore three areas where we can currently see these applications being developed as well as who is involved, followed by three corresponding recommendations and challenges in this emerging scenario.