European Council President Herman Van Rompuy came to China last month with the hope of bringing the world's second largest economy by GDP to the bailout of Europe troubled by the growing sovereign debt crisis. While in China he did something seemingly quite irrelevant to his financial campaign.
Instead of using all available time to speak with China's heavyweight politicians and bankers, Van Rompuy paid a visit to Villa Rosa, a rehabilitation center for mental disordered patients in rural Beijing.
European Council President Herman Van Rompuy with Bai Wei, Director of Villa Rosa. [Courtesy of SeS]
Established on Sep. 1st, 2009, Villa Rosa was launched by Italian Solidarieta'e Servizio (SeS), a non-governmental organization (NGO), in an attempt to popularize community recuperation for Chinese psychiatric patients. President Van Rompuy's visit no doubt highlighted its efforts.
According to Dr. Francesco Colizzi, psychiatrist and consultant of the project, entitled "Community Based Psychiatry", the European doctors are planning to promote mental health care among China's communities. Funded by the European Union and implemented by SeS, the project is piloted in China's three districts, with the cooperation of Associazione Italiana Amici di Raoul Follereau (AIFO), Peking University Institute of Mental Health / the Sixth Hospital of Peking University (PUIMH).
"In the EU member countries, there is a great deal of attention to the theme of mental health," said Dr. Colizzi. "The World Health Organization (WHO) has been reiterating for years that mental health should become a world priority for governments."
"However small it might be, (Villa Rosa) represents the hope and a possible model for China to accommodate, cure and integrate mental patients in the community, helping them to go out of big psychiatric hospitals, as Europe is doing now," he added.
A Villa Rosa patient presents Mr. Van Rompuy an example of his calligraphy. [Courtesy of SeS]
According to the statistics revealed by some psychiatrists who ask not to be identified, psychiatric patients in Beijing total approximately 100,000, accounting for over one percent of the city’s population as a whole. Yet local psychiatric hospitals in total are only capable of accommodating 10,000 to 20,000 patients, leaving 80,000 to 90,000 patients living in society.
"That makes us repeatedly emphasize the importance of mental healthcare services in communities," said Wang Anwen, a senior psychiatrist in Beijing Huilongguan Hospital, "but the community recuperation services here still need to be improved."
Despite some communities’ efforts at introducing mental healthcare services into community hospitals, they still need to improve their treatments and privacy-protection measures.
Whereas, Colizzi said community service are very popular in Italy and they operate in networks. According to him, a total of 630 mental health centers cover the entire territory of Italy, with each covering roughly 100,000 residents. The centers aim at encouraging psychiatric patients to return to society after their interim hospitalization in general psychiatric hospitals.
Psychiatric patients who try hard to reintegrate into society are often met with prejudice, and this is perhaps the same worldwide. But Colizzi said many patients in Europe no longer worry about their experience being known.
"There are campaigns in various European countries and places to combat stigma and prejudice, and one is aware that letting ordinary people meet with patients is the best way to create a new mental health culture and to reduce the phenomenon of social isolation and marginalization," he said, while adding, "However, all the patients are protected by a professional discretion, which binds on all the operators of psychiatric services, who are the only legitimate possessors of medical records [of which they can have an integral copy]."
According to Colizzi, mental disorders are a complex illness and are caused by a combination of biological, psychological and social factors, requiring multi-dimensional treatments and interventions from hospitals, community rehabilitation centers, families and individuals. It could not simply count on a single solution, and would possibly be deteriorated in social stigma and isolation.
Yang Fude, president of Beijing Huilongguan Hospital, once proposed to offer free medicines listed in the fundamental healthcare provisions to psychiatric patients, who are usually financially vulnerable due to their incompetency in securing jobs and psychological aversion to pills they have to take. And the proposal has been approved by the Department of the Healthcare for Women and Children of Beijing Municipal Health Bureau. Wang said appropriate treatments are quite necessary because they can bring two-thirds to three-fourths of patients back into society.
"Grave mental illness is an affliction that humanity should address," said Colizzi. But he still believed the patients should be treated and recover as soon as possible, so that they can again make their own decisions and enjoy their human rights as much as the rest of the population. After all, he said, there is still the "experience of hope."