China Fortune: IBM and Prejudice towards Depression


China Fortune– Appropriate Treatment of Depression Patients
Category: IBM and Prejudice towards Depression
Dr. Ling Long, psychologist, focus on charitable activity, working as both psychologist and authoring mental health related reports in media


Recently, two situations related to IBM have commanded the attention of the public; one being the 2011 celebration of 40,000 of IBM’s employees in an event commemorating its centennial; the other being of the same day, at seven in the evening, the attempted suicide of former IBM employee, Yipeng Yuan, in the Huangpu River after being terminated from his position due to his depression diagnosis – yet another in a series in five years.

According to the media’s description, the worker who began his career in IBM in 2006 as a hardware programmer was diagnosed with clinical depression after one year of working for the company, and took a two month break as a result to look after his health. The Shanghai Mental Health Center gave the suggestion of seeking extraneous treatment outside of work hours and, acting on this, Yuan applied for his return to his position but was rejected by IBM and was also asked to resign. As a result, in January of 2008, Yuan relapsed into a depressive episode and attempted suicide.

After, both parties entered into a civil battle, relentlessly volleying the resolution back and forth. IBM offered Yuan the option of “working from home” under a labour contract with the company or the option of recompensation. Their sole restriction is in denying Yuan from working in the office building itself. With the second suicide attempt, IBM was pushed into the public’s eye as the object of criticism and scandals.

No suicide attempts had deterred Yuan from the time of his diagnosis to his termination from the company, even when he continued working as usual. However, all three attempts had occurred after he was denied his place in IBM and can only be said to be a tragedy.

These recent years, with the fast development of Chinese society and competition, a peak has been reached in the population demographic of mental illness in the workplace. In the last two years, a letter circulated on the Internet addressed to a worker with depression from the CEO of Huawei, Zhengfei Ren. In this letter, he addressed the accumulating number of depression cases in the company and the growing events of self-harm and suicide. In my clinic, I frequently hear stories of mental breakdowns after the patients involved are fired from their work. Yuan is not the first or only case; however he is the only one to use extreme measures to expose the cruelty of employers’ attitudes towards depression to the public.

Why is IBM so quick to disassociate themselves from the mention of depression? I am guessing there are two reasons for this. The first would be the lack of sufficient information and understanding of depression. “Serious” depression patients would exhibit evidence of self-harm, suicidal tendencies and could be driven to suicide. The consequences of these actions could cause psychological trauma in the workplace and for the patient’s fellow colleagues. Acting upon these assumptions, employers would often shy away from cases of depression in their employees, worried that they would “cause trouble and harm others”.

The second reason: in the past couple of years, the Huawei Company and the Fushikan Company have encountered thirteen suicides within their workforce, so much so that the media have already developed an automatic response to the term “employee suicide”. For example, even Louis Vuitton’s singular suicide at their China-based factory evoked mass media response. This amount of attention can result in two different consequences: on one hand, public awareness may be raised on the issue so that companies would become more conscientious toward their employees’ mental health. On the other hand, the over-emphasis of these reports may heighten the probability of prejudice towards employees by the companies and the pressure enforced on them as companies become further stressed by the possibility of bad press.

Those working in the field of psychology understand the conflict faced by the enterprise in these two opposing outcomes. In recent years, the EAP (Employee Assistance Programs) system has developed rapidly in China, which reflects a deepening recognition of the importance of a worker’s mental well-being. However, many practicing psychiatrists in relation to EAP complain of industry’s impatient approach to handling the problem of depression in the workplace. In order to meet EAP’s requirements, a maximum would be set on the number of treatments made available to the worker from the company, the expectation being that by the concluding treatment, the worker would have recovered completely. If the employee has not reached this goal, then they would be labeled as “high-risk personnel” and stand the possibility of termination. These actions completely go against the purpose of the EAP, which is to protect worker interests. Companies such as IBM who boast of their own excellence in responsibility are thus worried about cases such as Yuan’s; suicide, lawsuits, anything which may call into question the integrity of the company. So “The Blue Giant” would donate millions to charitable acts but would refuse the request of a depression patient to return to his former post.

Not to point fingers at industry in general, IBM perhaps does not understand that anxiety disorder and depression, etc., are all common mental disorders and there is a clear divide between these and serious untreatable mental illnesses. As long as the treatment is complete and effective, then these common disorders will dissipate. However, self-harm and acting out against others are special occurrences, and would not occur during a specialist-dictated recovery stage.

Keeping in touch with society is the most effective treatment for a depression patient. Companies can reduce the worker’s responsibilities but keep them in a position which frequently interacts with the public, at the same time requesting them to seek appropriate treatment. For companies with EAP and are connected to a psychiatric clinic, this small probability of risk could be easily handled. In comparison to the large sum required of industry’s business goals, these tiny acts of prevention and treatment do not subtract significantly from the company’s expenditure.

Contrarily, if employees are forcefully terminated, then not only will it worsen symptoms and increase risks for self-harm and relapse, but will also tarnish the company’s name in society and subject them to public criticism of not being responsible for their workers. After all, in comparison with all other social groups, the workers are the true backbone of industry. Treating an employee with kindness is, for an industry, the most basic responsibility.



About Yuan Yi Peng (袁毅鹏)

An abandoned IBMer for his Depression
This entry was posted in Discrimination from IBM China and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to China Fortune: IBM and Prejudice towards Depression

  1. Diane says:

    I can understand Yuan Yi Peng’s position. When you work for a company and for whatever personal reasons suffer from depression, when this company turns you aways, it only makes you more depressed. If the depression is not related to the work place to start with, it is good for the person to maintain their role. This article does not say how Yuan obtained his depression, did the work place treat him badly to make him depressed to begin with? I know I have been in a position in the past to where I was working for an employer who treated me poorly because I had to take time off from work due to my daughter’s mental health. My daughter was an adult who had a baby and suffered from post partum depression and a mood disorder. When I went to work, I was always afraid that my daughter might cause harm to the baby if I was not there to check on her. My work place who assisted those with disabilities, gave me more work then anyone person could handle. I did what they asked but my writing was not the best quality. They began making me write in words that our clients could not understand nor myself of which was not what we were supposed to do. They kept calling me in the office, yelling at me and telling me I was not good enough. It got to the point to where I got nausous just to think about going to work. I called in sick then all of a sudden I felt fine. There were days I felt fine, got dressed and started heading out the door to have to come back in because I was sick. I called in a second day and decided I was going to call the doctor to make an appointment. Before I had a chance to do this, they called me up and asked me what was wrong, why did I call in sick. This is actually against the law, I did not have to answer but I did. I was upfront and honest with them. They called me in the office and made me sit in an empty meeting room for some time. Later I found out the reason they did this is because they were packing up my desk. I was feeling depressed due to the negative ways I was being treated along with worry of my daughter and granddaughter. Little did I realize it but I was already feeling depressed due to the negative things that had happened to me within the 10 years prior to this incident. I just felt an extreme amount of pressure on my shoulders but never connected that to depression. From the negative way this agency treated me, I was afraid to get another job, especially in that field. I felt as though I was no good. Other then the type of work I was doing, with my degree, I didn’t see any other kind of work available. If felt lost, hopeless and useless. These feelings didn’t help my depression at all. I did not do anything radical like self harm but I did feel as though I was stupid and could never do anything right. A collegue of my husband’s talked me in to getting another job in the same field but with a different agency because she felt as though I could do the work, they treated me unfairly. A few months later I was hired doing the same work. I worked there for a year and was doing well until I got a new supervisor. This supervisor did not like me personally, had nothing to do with my work performance. I had two different people proof read my work and they both said I did very well. All of a sudden she decided to proof read my work and made me do all kinds of corrections to the work that was already proof read. She began doing exactly what my previous supervisor did. One day for no reason she had my co-worker leave the office. She and her supervisor assisted me with packing up my belongings and escorted me out the door. She did not give me a chance to do what she felt as though I should do. She had no real basis to fire me but I was. I felt so worthless and depressed. All I could do is cry, how was I going to afford to care for my family. I now had custody of my granddaughter. I also had to take her out of her preschool program she enjoyed going to. We had just purchased a brand new car so that my husband could have reliable transportation for work. I felt so depressed, I talked with my doctor who prescribed me antidepresants. They did seem to help but I still felt worthless. I stayed home for 2 years, went back to college but refused to seek another job in that position. Last August I got hired at a new place of employment. I actually work for an attorney as a guardian, rep-payee and POA. I have to say, my current supervisor has a lot of patience because I was so used to having to think and make my own decisions on what to do with clients and being totally independent with my other employers. The other places were not team players, my work is mine and your work is yours. If I get behind and need help. oh well. Where I am now, they don’t do this, we all help each other. It is taking quite some getting used to, having a boss that wants me to ask questions, that wants me to seek help. I have always helped others but no one has been there to help me until this job. I have been there 6 months now and are finally learning not to be so independent and to ask. I am hoping that I will be able to follow through with what is expected of me. My job can be very stressful at time, very depressing at times because I am dealing with a lot of death, but it is a different kind of depression. The stress I can deal with and my co workers are great. I can vent with them anytime and they can do the same. If I get behind on my visits,someone will pick up the slack, it is nice. If I need help with anything, someone is there to help me. I just hope my supervisor continues to have patience and understanding while I continue to learn the job. It is my understanding that this job is contantly a learning process. Some of the employees have been there 6 years, they still have questions to ask.

    With this being said, there are always work places that don’t know how to treat their employees nor to they have the proper understanding of what is going on within ones life. Don’t get discouraged, keep seeking a new avenue and one will come your way. I have to say, I am always afraid of being fired, I don’t think that will go away for a long time. I still feel somewhat depressed for what has happened to me but I know its not me now, just like its not Yuan, he did not do anything to get this negative treatment from his employer. No matter where you go, you always have someone to try to bring you down. Don’t let it happen. Yuan suffers from depression, not a mood disorder. He is not going to harm anyone else and if given a chance to do his job, he wouldn’t hurt himself either. People suffering from depression has had something or many things negative happen in their lives to cause them to be depressed, it is not due to a mental health disorder. When huge companies like IBM do crap like this to their employee’s, it only makes them more depressed and have lack of self worth which causes them to want to harm themselves. I know what it feels like but you just have to hang in there. Find a good support system to help you feel worth something. I have talked with Yuan a little on here about his company and tried to find ways to help him out. I live in the USA and work for a non-profit organization which helps immigrants relocate to avoid prosecution when they did not do anything wrong. I have offered to see what I can do to help Yuan with this but lost touch with him. It is terrible when someone has to go to such big measures such as relocating to another country so that they can get somewhere in life. We have to do what we have to do to survive.

    Shame on IBM for possibly thinking that Yuan is going to do something negative or cause others to be depressed while in the work place. I know China is a third world country, they need to get with the times, get educated in mental health in the work place. Stop thinking they they are in the 1800’s where people got executed for feeling depressed or having a mental health disorder. If they were executed, they were locked up away from sociiety. They need to get with the times and have more of an understanding of others.

    • What I really went through was much more complicated and horrible, but I can’t tell to the world for the safety of my family on this land. It was happening during Beijing Olympic four years ago. This is part of reason why I got PTSD and no way out.

      I took the first attempt since of the fatal trap IBM China made.

      I can’t find any job openings since of my background and my name everywhere on the Internet. China is not the USA or Britain. And with personal ID card and Hu Kou policy I can’t conceal my past. IBM China lead team also have threatened me “never could find a job again in this domain”.

      What IBM China did on June 16th was not that “simple” —— too evil, I will expose it in a later time. What they did even make me dare not to get back to my home including Chinese New Year.

      Don’t believe I can have many days, REALLY.

  2. another attempt, failed again. i am a crap

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