Are the relationships between mental health issues and being left-behind gendered in China: A systematic review and meta-analysis.
BACKGROUND: While most existing studies reveal left-behind children (LBC) are prone to suffering from mental health issues, some other literature fails to develop a statistical significance between being left-behind and facing mental health dilemmas. In further detail, it is noteworthy that suicide ideation is a gendered issue. Here girls, relative to their male counterparts, are more likely to experience emotional and affective challenges, alongside a higher risk of suicide ideation. Aside from suicide ideation, the rate of suicide attempts is also higher among Chinese female than among male LBC. However, Chang et al. counter-argue that, within the LBC cohorts, it is not statistically significant to state that girls were more likely for suicide attempts than boys. METHODS: In this paper, a systematic review of relevant literature and a meta-analysis of all qualified randomised controlled trial (RCT) studies were conducted. The authors aim to examine all relevant studies with similar methodologies to observe the nuanced relationships between being left-behind and mental health issues in Chinese contexts. Specifically, the authors will, grounded on the findings from the systematic review and meta-analysis, assess whether the relationship between mental health issues and being left-behind is gendered in Chinese contexts by analysing all relevant findings derived from similar methodologies and the same method (i.e., RCT). RESULTS: Aside from Wanjie et al.'s studies, it is noticeable that the rest of the studies share similar point estimates and their CIs overlapped to a large extent. As per the I2, given the presence of Wanjie et al.'s studies that demonstrate an observably higher degree of heterogeneity than the rest of the studies, the I2 values, each for the measurement of anxiety and depression, are 74.8 percent and 34.7 percent respectively. This shows that there is a considerable heterogeneity level for anxiety, while the heterogeneity level for depression is moderate. However, both p-values for the I2 statistics are larger than 0.05. Therefore, at the 0.05 significance level, it is statistically insignificant to reject the null hypothesis that there is no heterogeneity between individual studies in both the subgroups of anxiety and depression. Therefore, the concern of the potentially substantial heterogeneity should be irrelevant in this meta-analysis. Beyond the discussion from the forest plot, when looking at the single study addressing the relationship between being left-behind and having suicide attempts (note: LBC-OR is 1.22; 95 percent CI is 1.22 -and NLBC-OR is 1.42; 95 percent CI is 1.09-1.86 -at the p-value of 0.34), the findings demonstrate that such a relationship per se is not gendered at the 0.05 statistical significance level. However, when examining the relationship between being resilient and left-behind, such an association is gendered where the OR of female left-behind university students being resilient, relative to male left-behind university students, is slightly higher than that of female non-left-behind university students being resilient, relative to their male non-left-behind university student counterparts. It is noteworthy that this study focuses on studying left-behind and non-left-behind samples who entered universities. Since a raft of LBC are socially, educationally disadvantaged, they lack the opportunities to receive higher education. Therefore, the findings of this study might not be indicative of the LBC population at large. CONCLUSIONS: While the findings of this meta-analysis project fail to reflect any gendered issues statistically, the authors are aware of the fact that the data included in this project were collected based on perception. Here samples, or their parents and teachers, were responsible for answering the questions with respect to samples' mental health status and demographic details. In China, especially in less developed rural regions, the discourse on mental health challenges might continue to be seen as taboo, so individuals giving responses might, consciously or not, tend to give socially desirable answers to avoid any potential social stigmatisation. Therefore, there is some extent of reservation regarding the validity of the included studies' data.