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Guangzhou Told to Boost Mental Health Services
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Guangzhou, the capital city of south China's Guangdong Province is being urged to offer free and more effective mental health services after a series of tragedies in the past week.

The tragedies involved mental patients injuring or killing their loved ones or pedestrians in the city.

"The number of patients with mental health problems increased 40 percent last year on 2005 to 40,000," said Ye Minshu, outpatient department director of the Guangzhou Baiyun psychological hospital.

"Reliance on the relatives or guardians of patients is far from an effective means of monitoring and controlling their behavior," said Zhang, director of the Guangzhou civil administration bureau's psychiatric hospital.

"Communities should get themselves involved in such monitoring and provide necessary support and help to families."

Zhang added that awareness of mental illnesses should also be propagated further among citizens.

Liang Ju, director of the rehabilitation division of the Guangzhou disabled persons' federation, called for free outpatient mental health treatment in the city.

Liang said free outpatient medical services are currently provided only to local patients whose families are receiving basic living allowances from the government.

"But if all of the mental patients (whether they are receiving basic living allowances or not) are exempt from outpatient fees, the total number of inpatients (with mental illnesses) will actually go down," he said.

"It will therefore help reduce hospitalization expenditure, which is always higher than outpatient expenditure, as well as the social costs as a whole."

A recent government report revealed that a few cities in Guangdong, such as Shenzhen and Shantou, are offering free outpatient services to mental patients, despite their lack of resources. The medical costs are borne by local government.

Liang said community medical services to mental patients should be promoted further, and that they were "economically acceptable for most of the patients while effective enough to control their health problems".

"Guangdong has over 40,000 patients suffering from mental health issues, and about one-third, or 12, 000, of them do not receive proper medical treatment due to financial difficulties," Liang said.

(China Daily June 8, 2007)

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