Pingnan county killings put focus on mental health of migrant workers

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 September, 2012, 3:07am

The suspect who killed three children and injured another 13 in a machete attack on Friday in Pingnan county, Guangxi is a frustrated young migrant worker who had just returned home, local authorities said, highlighting what experts said was a growing social problem on the mainland.

Wu Yechang, the 25-year-old suspect, told police that he first thought of committing suicide on Friday, but changed his mind after buying a machete, Xinhua reported yesterday.

Wu was arrested at the scene after he attacked 16 children at a private day-care centre. A person in charge of the centre was also detained over lax security, Xinhua said.

Police were yet to establish whether or not Wu suffered from a mental disorder when he committed the crime, the report said.

Local officials earlier said Wu may have a history of mental illness, but police yesterday confirmed he had no previous psychiatric illness.

China News Service reported that Wu returned to Pingnan from Guangdong province, where he was a migrant worker, in July because he had "major setbacks at work and was very pessimistic about life".

Experts said the case highlighted the need for psychological services and other counselling for migrant workers.

Professor Xie Jianshe , from Guangzhou University, said the younger generation of migrant workers born after the 1980s were less resilient than their seniors.

"The younger generation of workers are better educated than their parents, and their expectations of urban life are also higher," Xie said.

"On the other hand, they cannot endure hard labour like the older generations do."

This created "a stronger sense of frustration from work and life in big cities" among younger migrants, he said, leading some to resort to crime.

Psychology professor Qiu Hongzhong , of Guangzhou University of Chinese Medicine, said that people who had suffered problems of a personal nature and at work were more at risk of developing unstable states of mind or antisocial behaviour.

Xie said there was a high crime rate among young migrant workers in the Pearl River Delta, citing studies.

"When I visited a prison in Dongguan two years ago, more than 90 per cent of inmates were migrant workers born after 1980," he said. "That is quite alarming."

The tragedy of Wu's case could have been avoided if he had received help earlier, he said.