Lift Shenzhen on Mental Health and Community Building

By Phoebe Kut, December 13, 2019

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Moving to a new city, let alone a new country is a daunting experience. We’ve all been there. You’re eager to meet friends, soak in the sights and make the most of it –  yet pangs of loneliness or homesickness may hit at times. We got the chance to speak with Sara Deases, founder of Lift Shenzhen, which is an organization whose aim is to raise awareness on the importance of mental health in Shenzhen, a city known for its nonstop hustle. Below, Sara discusses why she decided to start the organization, the current landscape of mental health in China and how the community can get invovled. 

Founder, Sara Deases. Image courtesy of Lift Shenzhen

Can you give us a bit of an introduction to Lift Shenzhen? Is it geared more towards expats or locals?
Lift Shenzhen was established to bring awareness to the importance of mental health to overall well-being. We aim to help our community live a balanced life at ‘Shenzhen speed’ through emotional, mental and physical support outlets. Initially, we’re focusing on expats, but will include locals in the future because we understand that they too are likely feeling the pressures of life here. Unlike Beijing and other top tier cities, Shenzhen is relatively ‘young,’ so it’s rare to meet a local who is actually from here, and usually their families are elsewhere. So, in some ways, most of the residents of Shenzhen are also ‘immigrants’ – all of us going through some of the same ‘outsider’ experiences.

Why did you decide to start Lift Shenzhen?
Lift Shenzhen is very much a personal project of mine. I founded Lift Shenzhen after seeing firsthand the scarcity of resources for mental health services, which I interpreted as a need in Shenzhen’s social services sector. I came into it with no psychology background, no business background and no non-profit organization (NPO) experience at all. I wasn’t really sure where to start or what I could do, but I couldn’t turn away from the responsibility understanding how vital such services are to a community’s overall functioning. It’s also provided me an opportunity to be a learner, and better understand general attitudes toward mental health within Chinese culture. So, here we are...

Past Lift Shenzhen event. Image courtesy of Lift Shenzhen

What are your thoughts on the current landscape of mental health in China?
In my opinion, mental health is a major public and social health problem in China. Again, there appear to be insufficient mental health resources and a low service capacity for them across the country as a whole. For reasons I don’t yet understand, there is less investment into psychiatric hospitals; there are fewer psychiatric practitioners per capita than in developed countries, and there is uneven distribution of the limited resources that exist in China, with most hospitals and professionals concentrated in provincial capitals and economically developed eastern regions. Even with Shenzhen being one of those ‘developed eastern cities,’ my sense is that the people of Shenzhen are struggling mentally and emotionally. A significant task is getting people to become aware of their pain, of their own sense of imbalance and dis-ease, of the abnormality of being expected to prioritize their identity as an employee above all other parts of their identity. Without this, it really doesn’t matter how many mental health resources exist. They’ll go unused. So, there is an educational dimension to our work as well. 

What services does Lift provide?
Currently Lift Shenzhen is in its grassroots stage. We are a bridge to doctors, therapists and life coaches which you can find on our official WeChat account (Lift Shenzhen). We also publish a collection of essays, articles and other content intended to help strengthen your overall well-being. In addition, one of our key aims is to cultivate a feeling of real connection in a society that often feels oversaturated with inauthentic or artificial connection. We plan to hold a variety of monthly events that foster a safe, genuine sense of community around bonding activities that not only enable interpersonal connection, but that also promote a sense of service by focusing attention on social needs.

Image courtesy of Lift Shenzhen

How did you manage to rally the team behind Lift Shenzhen? 
Currently our team is extremely tiny: small but mighty! I have a wonderful support team of like-minded individuals, all of which I believe were handpicked and delivered to me by some higher power. I want it to grow, but I know this is a busy time of year. Early next year I will be looking for volunteer event coordinators, Chinese translators, creative designers and more to add to the team.

What events or plans can we expect from Lift in the coming year?
I have to keep reminding myself we must walk before we can run. I have really big dreams for Lift Shenzhen. For next year, I am working on establishing partnerships with therapists in Hong Kong (and hopefully online) to relieve some of the pressure off the therapists here. Lift will also host educational workshops conducted by well informed and insightful individuals; organize small groups to promote safe places for people to express themselves; and continue partnering with other organizations/communities on events to spread the word that this kind of support is available. Once established, I would love for it to move into other cities in China (Lift Shanghai, Lift Changsha, etc.).

Lift Shenzhen’s next event is a Christmas community dinner where attendees can give back by bringing a gift for a young adult orphan. See event listing. RSVP.

For more information, visit their official WeChat by searching ‘Lift Shenzhen’

[Cover image courtesy of Lift Shenzhen]

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