Chinese submarine sailors report significant mental health problems in rare study

A Chinese ballistic missile submarine takes part in a military parade in the Yellow Sea in 2019.

Hong Kong (CNN)More than 1 in 5 sailors on Chinese submarines operating in the South China Sea reported mental health problems, according to a new study that provides a rare insight into the inner workings of one of the Chinese military's most guarded assets.

The research by China's Second Military Medical University and Navy Military Medical University, published in the British journal Military Medicine, showed submariners reported severe psychological problems at much higher rates compared to People's Liberation Army (PLA) forces as a whole.
"This study demonstrates for the first time that soldiers and officers in the submarine force in the South China Sea are facing mental health risks and suffering from serious psychological problems," the researchers concluded.
    The study surveyed 580 male submariners in the PLA Navy's South China Sea fleet, with 511 of those returning complete responses. While the overall condition of submariners' mental health was only slightly worse than PLA troops in general, the research showed significantly worse problems among the sub force in four areas.
      PLA Navy submariners showed higher rates of anxiety, phobias, paranoia and somatization -- where mental issues surface with physical symptoms -- than among Chinese troops overall, the study found.