Mental health crisis on agenda

PUBLISHED : Friday, 08 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 08 June, 2012, 12:00am


Mainland businesses with more than 1,000 employees might have to hire psychologists to help improve mental health across the country.

The Ministry of Health put the requirement in a working draft plan released last week and feedback is being collected from local health authorities.

If the blueprint is approved, every major hospital would also be required to have a psychiatry department, and major cities would have to set up special funds to treat people with severe mental problems.

The ministry is trying to create a more comprehensive mental health services network.

No timeframe was given for the plan's implementation.

Citing a 2009 survey by the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, the Beijing Daily reported on Tuesday that there were fewer than 20,000 licensed psychiatrists on the mainland, but the number of people suffering from various kinds of mental illnesses was estimated at 100 million. Among them, 70 per cent were not able to receive effective treatment, and there were only about 200,000 beds designated for people with mental problems.

The ministry's blueprint stressed the importance of mental health, calling it an important social issue.

'In a society with rapid economic development, various types of conflicts emerge, and many factors exist that can affect people's mental well-being. Therefore, it's common for various groups of people to suffer from psychological disorders,' the plan said.

It said there was an increasing number of patients with common mental illnesses such as depression or anxiety. And for the country's 16 million patients with severe mental diseases, the services offered were far from enough.

Health authorities also conceded that the resources dedicated to mental health were not equally distributed across the country, while there was serious prejudice and discrimination against people affected by mental disorders. The blueprint also calls for psychological crisis intervention teams to be formed in 60 per cent of mainland cities, and many cities would be required to provide hotlines offering psychological help. Dr Xie Bin, from the Shanghai Mental Health Centre, said the plan indicated that authorities wanted to put more emphasis on treating common psychological problems that afflicted a large number of people, because those types of problems had long been neglected.

'As a result of economic development and a rise in people's living standards, there is considerably higher demand for psychological advice from the public,' he said.

But one of the leading psychiatrists on the mainland, Professor Liu Xiehe, from Sichuan University's West China Medical School, said such an ambitious plan would be hard to implement as it lacked 'thorough investigation and scientific assessment'. 'The most important thing to building this comprehensive mental health network is having enough professionals,' Liu said. 'But it is almost impossible to groom so many in such a short time.'

He said that fewer than 10 students with master's degrees or higher graduated from his Department of Psychiatry every year, and he estimated that there were fewer than 100 elite psychiatry graduates on the mainland every year. Undergraduate medical students, he said, were generally not interested in the subject.

Dr Xie said that, over the past decade, hundreds of thousands of people had received licences as psychological consultants, but he questioned their quality of service because most were trained by underqualified organisations.

Liu agreed, saying that even if the authorities quickly established a mental health network, he would be concerned about the quality of service it would deliver.