Mental health hotlines are coming

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The top health authority has launched a nationwide mental health program, requesting each province to set up at least one psychological counseling hotline by the end of the year, according to a notice from the Ministry of Health yesterday.

The hotlines, to be based in local mental health hospitals, will provide services free of charge. Their goal will be to help address varied mental problems afflicting the public in the country today. The hotlines would connect callers to convenient and affordable psychological services and help decrease losses caused by mental problems, the notice said.

This is the first such program ever initiated by the government. It comes after several criminal acts, including mass killings, were found to be committed by someone suspected of being mentally ill.

Mental disorders account for 20 percent of all diseases in China and are a serious threat to public health and stability, official statistics showed.

Currently, at least 56 million people with various mental problems in China have not received treatment, largely due to poor awareness and lack of money to pay for it, official statistics showed.

A hotline is a feasible and cost-effective method to offer mental health services to the public, said Qiu Renzong, an expert in bioethics from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

"Many people refuse to seek help in mental hospitals for fear of discrimination from others," he said. "The hotline would better protect their privacy."

The future hotlines are encouraged to cooperate with local public service hotlines such as 110, the emergency police number, and 120, the emergency medical service number, to provide psychological intervention services when needed, said the notice.

Regular and long operating hours and professional counselors are also required, it said.

The training will include learning practical skills in communication over the phone, as well as procedures in handling cases involving violence, crime, suicide and drug addiction.

Notably, unbiased and professional intervention into cases involving homosexuality is also highlighted in the training.

There are 11 hospital beds and fewer than two psychiatrists for every 100,000 people in the nation, far less than the world average of 43 beds and four doctors, according to official statistics.

In another development, to secure Hepatitis B carriers' rights in schooling and employment, government employees who discriminate against them will face punishments such as warnings, degradations, and even firings, according to a joint notice issued yesterday by the MOH, the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security, and the Ministry of Education.

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