For China’s Overwhelmed Doctors, an Understanding Voice Across the Ocean

A nurse called the 24-hour hotline to complain about a constant headache. A doctor said he was feeling ostracized by the public, even as he worked to save patients from the epidemic. One caller said she was feeling suicidal.

The volunteers at Yong Xin Kang Yi (“Use your heart to fight the virus”), a crisis line established for the overworked, overstressed medical staff on the front lines of the coronavirus outbreak in China, listen to it all.

“Our principle is just to be emotionally available for them,” said Erjing Cui, 28, a psychotherapist who volunteers for the hotline from Seattle, where she lives. “The most important thing that we’ll try to do is to provide a space and listen and provide empathy to what they have to say.”

Ms. Cui is one of many mental health professionals trying to address the emotional burden of the epidemic, which has subjected doctors and nurses to extreme hardships while rattling the nerves of ordinary people around the globe. In China alone, hundreds of hotlines have been set up by universities, local governments and mental health organizations to help people cope.

But China has a shortage of quality mental health services — just 2.2 psychiatrists for every 100,000 people, according to the World Health Organization, which is about a fifth of what the United States has. Ms. Cui, who grew up in the Chinese city of Guangzhou, is not the only therapist who volunteers from Yong Xin Kang Yi from North America.

The Coronavirus Outbreak

  • What do you need to know? Start here.

    Updated Feb. 10, 2020

    • What is a Coronavirus?
      It is a novel virus named for the crown-like spikes that protrude from its surface. The coronavirus can infect both animals and people, and can cause a range of respiratory illnesses from the common cold to more dangerous conditions like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS.
    • How contagious is the virus?
      According to preliminary research, it seems moderately infectious, similar to SARS, and is possibly transmitted through the air. Scientists have estimated that each infected person could spread it to somewhere between 1.5 and 3.5 people without effective containment measures.
    • How worried should I be?
      While the virus is a serious public health concern, the risk to most people outside China remains very low, and seasonal flu is a more immediate threat.
    • Who is working to contain the virus?
      World Health Organization officials have praised China’s aggressive response to the virus by closing transportation, schools and markets. This week, a team of experts from the W.H.O. arrived in Beijing to offer assistance.
    • What if I’m traveling?
      The United States and Australia are temporarily denying entry to noncitizens who recently traveled to China and several airlines have canceled flights.
    • How do I keep myself and others safe?
      Washing your hands frequently is the most important thing you can do, along with staying at home when you’re sick.