Mental health progress

0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China Daily, October 26, 2011
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China is not sweeping mental health under the carpet.

The Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, the legislative house, deliberated a draft bill on the mental health of the nation on Monday. It is good news for the government, medical workers and those who have a mental disorder. Under the auspices of Ministry of Health, the bill has been in the works since 1985.

While the changing physical condition of Chinese citizens has drawn a lot of attention, mental illness has been neglected.

The draft bill addresses this and has well defined rules as to the rights and interests of the mentally ill and how to provide medical care and support for them.

Currently, the country is on an all-consuming drive for wealth; family structures are changing; millions of people are migrating each year from villages to cities. All put an invisible strain on people.

The Ministry of Health warns that there are 16 million psychiatric patients in China. An official report revealed that suicide attempts were the second-largest cause of injury in China in 2005, after traffic accidents. Women have proved especially vulnerable to stress: Chinese females between the ages of 15 and 34 have one of the highest suicide rates in the world one that is almost double the national average.

The majority of regions lack mental-health prevention networks and the level of public knowledge about mental illness is not high. Many people who need medical attention are unable to receive help - either because it is too costly or because of the stigma attached.

Three government departments operate hospitals for the mentally ill: the health department, the police department and the civil affairs department. But psychiatry is still a medical backwater and there are insufficient mental health professionals in the country. The registered 16,383 psychotherapists and counselors are not enough to help the large population who suffer from one kind of mental illness or another.

The problem is exacerbated because there are some who are healthy but who are illegally detained as "mentally ill" for their actions.

This mindset leads to abuses.

So it is not difficult to see that mental health is not only a medical issue, but also an issue concerning law enforcement and social stability.

At the discussions on Monday, Minister of Health, Chen Zhu, said the major concern of the draft law is to ensure the legal rights of people with mental illnesses and it is mental health professionals who should determine if a person is suffering from a mental illness and whether hospitalization is needed.

However, it is also important that society changes its deep-rooted bias toward mental illness and accepts those afflicted with the illness without prejudice.

Professional groups need to set new standards for psychological counselors to weed out those without proper training and to provide more skilled counselors.

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