Playing mahjong can improve mental health of older Chinese, according to a new study. Regularly playing this tile-based game is one of the many types of social participation in China.
And the research team has found that it can lead to a decrease in depression rates among middle-aged and older adults. This study has appeared in the journal “Social Science and Medicine”.
Benefits of social activities like playing mahjong
In older people, global epidemiological and economic trends have increased the burden of mental health. Whereas, this increase is more significant in low and middle-income countries. Poor mental health is one of the major issues in China.
And among different mental disorders, it accounts for about 17% of the global disease burden. Moreover, with the increase in the number of older adults in China, there is a rise in mental health issues. While these issues can be related to loneliness and social isolation.
Many nations have widely acknowledged that social activities can improve mental health. So, to better understand this link, some work has been done in developed countries like the U.S. and Japan. But very little is known about this interaction in other settings.
Social participation has revealed itself in distinctive manners among different cultural contexts. This study has given evidence on the relation between mental health and social participation in a developing country.
It has also analyzed the rural-urban difference, which hasn’t been extensively studied in this line of literature. The research team has taken the information from nationally representative China Health and Retirement Longitudinal Study. Then the team has included and assessed the survey data of about 11,000 residents.
These residents had an age of 45 years or more. The researchers have observed the symptoms of depression in them. And then compared these symptoms with the frequency and type of social participation. That also includes playing mahjong, visiting with friends, or volunteering in the community.
Differences in the findings in rural and urban China
The results of the study have shown that, on the whole, participation in different activities more frequently is associated with better mental health. More specifically, urban residents playing mahjong were less likely to have depression.
Further findings showed that overall rural Chinese tended to report poor mental health when compared with the urban ones. It was quite surprising for the research team. As these results were different from their expectations.
The team was assuming strong ties and communal bonds in the rural Chinese. But the results proved them wrong. Traditionally, rural China appeared to have tight-knit communities of close kinship. While, in a village, there were a limited number of extended large families.
Currently, the researchers suspect that the migration of many able-bodied adults to cities (to find work) may have led to the disruption of the social structures in rural China. While the family ties were strong, the team observed weakened community ties in rural areas.
These results can act as a guide for health practitioners that are making interventions and policies to boost mental health in older Chinese. These findings can also translate to Asian American communities.
These communities have much higher rates of suicidal thoughts than African Americans and whites. Improving social participation in these communities can help address this burden to the health of the U.S. population.