Study on mental health of submariners in S.China Sea 'normal' PLA management practice: military experts
Study on submariners' mental health 'normal' PLA management practice: military experts
Published: Feb 02, 2021 10:27 PM

Three guided-frigates attached to the frigate flotilla of a navy base under the PLA Southern Theater Command steam in formation during a training exercise in waters of the South China Sea on Jan. 4, 2021. ( by Zhang Bin)

Increasing attention on soldiers' mental health is a normal management work of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) of China to thoroughly improve combat effectiveness as mental health is an important part of military management for all countries, Chinese observers said amid overseas media's over-interpretation of a recent report on the mental condition of PLA submarine soldiers in the South China Sea.

A report on a study on mental conditions of 511 male submariners in the submarine force in the South China Sea conducted by a team claimed to come from the Shanghai-based Navy Medical University was released in early January in Military Medicine magazine. 

The study found that 21.1 percent of the submariners showed varying degrees of mental health problems, including anxiety, phobic anxiety, and paranoid ideation, which is higher than the Chinese military male norms.

The report said that the submarine force's officers and soldiers in the South China Sea were found to be particularly vulnerable to suffering from mental health problems partly because increasing military maneuvers in South China in recent years that can involve 60 to 90 days of submerged cruising.  Previous studies have demonstrated that increasing military maneuvers and living in an isolated environment for a long period can produce psychological stress, it said. 

The report caught the attention of some overseas media, and used the issue to highlight tensions between Chinese and US militaries in the region. Navy Medical University could not be reached for comments.    

"Study on soldiers' mental health is a very normal operation for Western countries as mental health is an important guarantee for the militaries' combat effectiveness, or non-battle attrition would increase," Song Zhongping, a Chinese military expert and TV commentator, told the Global Times on Tuesday.

Soldiers would also suffer mental problems after wars or military conflicts, which also deserve study, Song said, noting such study is very normal and important for all countries' military management, so there is no need to over-interpret when China conducts it. 

The abovementioned report is allegedly the first in China to explore the current mental health conditions of officers and soldiers in the submarine force.

Some media speculated that the high rate of mental health problems among submariners in the South China Sea showed the PLA's negligence of soldiers' mental health, which was slammed by Chinese observers.     

Song noted that the PLA not only arranged medical professionals to take care of soldiers' mental health, but also take care of soldiers' mental health during daily political work, which is an advantage of China's system. 

Some military observers noted that the PLA has been enhancing management of soldiers' mental health, and it is not strange for submariners, who would live and work in narrow spaces for a long period, to suffer more mental problems. 

The PLA put into use a digital mental health management system in November 2019, which not only conducts psychological testing but psychological counseling, media reported. 

According to the US Department of the Navy, psychological dysfunction is an extremely large disqualifying category in the US Submarine Force.