Chinese Submariners Patrolling South China Sea Suffer ‘Serious’ Psych Problems, Study Finds

A fifth of sailors assigned to Chinese submarines patrolling the South China Sea have experienced some degree of mental health problems, according to a study published this month.

“This study demonstrates for the first time that soldiers and officers in the submarine force in the South China Sea are exposed to a number of mental health risks and are suffering from serious psychological problems,” Chinese researchers concluded in the study published Jan. 7 in the journal Military Medicine.

The study’s five authors are affiliated with the Institute of Military Health Management at Naval Medical University in Shanghai, China.

It assessed the “self-perceived” mental health of Chinese submariners, then compared those findings to “Chinese military male norms,” the study said.

The authors noted that the state of mental health in members of the Chinese military has been the subject of greater scrutiny since the country’s Ministry of National Defense announced in 2006 that psychological testing would be included in the official recruitment examination.

“One group of military personnel at high risk of mental health problems is the submarine force, especially in the South China Sea,” the study said. “Not only is the South China Sea located in the tropical convergence zone, where the climate is characterized by high temperatures and high humidity, but it also has a geographical importance from a political perspective: Vietnam, the Philippines, and other countries around the South China Sea have intensified their territorial claims since 2007. Attributable to the tense relations between these countries, China has increased the number of cruising and sea maneuvers to strengthen protection of the South China Sea.”

While the United States maintains no territorial claims there, the U.S. Navy conducts routine freedom-of-navigation operations in the South China Sea with surface vessels for what it describes as a means of supporting “a free and open Indo-Pacific.”

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