If you are depressed for any reason, here is a chance in China to feel better after paying for an online service to buy a few moments of flattery no matter what you think about yourself.
That is the idea behind "Kua Kua" groups, a phenomenon that has become very popular across China where depression and anxiety are on the rise.
Initially set up as communities in which university students encouraged each other amid academic pressure and little social activity, the Kua Kua (kua means to praise in Chinese) forums sprouted all over China after its social media success.
EFE accessed one such forum formed of about 500 students from the Jiaotong University of Xi'an, where, according to local media, these groups originated.
“Hello. I have many problems when I try to do my job and that makes me sad. Can you cheer me up?"
In the next few minutes, several users responded with praises and messages of encouragement.
"That means you work with your heart and not superficially," one message read.
“Fortune and misfortune depend on each other. Misfortune has already arrived, so happiness is closer," said another.
“You face a lot of pressure but you do it bravely. Your attitude is positive. I like it,” the third one got too positive.
However, not all groups are altruistic. Popular e-commerce platforms such as Taobao have seen proliferation of stores where those in need can rent for a few minutes an entourage of professional flatterers.
Xiao Ruichen is 27 and manages a Kua Kua and a Taobao shop.
"I found out in mid-March through Weibo (Chinese Twitter). It was very popular. So, I decided to make one of my own. Life is getting faster and people are on the verge of anxiety, anguish and depression," he told EFE.
“This service is very popular,” he said, adding people feel better after a session of flattery and “that makes me feel happy”.
Xiao charges 38 yuan ($5.7) for five minutes and 68 yuan for 10 minutes following which the client is removed from the forum.
Although he preferred not to disclose how much money he earns each month, Xiao said that about 35 percent of his income goes to the other members – more than a 100 college students whom he has selected under strict criteria such as writing speed or the ability to entertain clients.
According to figures offered by official media, the largest seller of accesses to these Kua Kua forums on Taobao may have earned more than 83,000 yuan in February.
In fact, the enthusiasm has been such that even national media have warned of the dangers of relying on these virtual communities.
An opinion article in Xinhua said young people must choose other healthier ways to solve problems when they feel under pressure.
Psychologist Su Chao of the Mingxin psychotherapy center, told EFE that resorting to these groups improves self-esteem on a quick short term basis.
"It is harmless for people, it's like playing or watching a movie. However, for those who really need to de-stress and increase their self-esteem, this is a false promotion,” Su said.
“The long-term effect is that people with less mental maturity distort their own assessment of the world and themselves, thereby reducing their ability to cope with problems of the environment and increase their vulnerability to setbacks and difficulties in life,” he warned.
Asked what then is the reason for the popularity of these groups in China, Su said: "Since childhood, the Chinese are in an environment where interactions are based much more on criticism than praise. The Chinese receive more criticism in childhood than Europeans or Americans.”
“This lack of praise (...) leads to low self-esteem and a lower level of activity and social skills. China has a community culture that makes it the most fertile soil for the growth of Kua Kua groups,"Su said.