China's new mental health law to make it harder for authorities to silence petitioners
The director of Xinjiang's largest mental health institution has welcomed a new law, which went into effect on Wednesday, banning involuntary inpatient treatment for many people deemed mentally ill.
"Seventy to 80 per cent of the patients have been forcibly admitted to the hospital," said Xu Xiangdong, director of the Fourth People's Hospital in the regional capital Urumqi, the Yaxin online news portal reported on Monday.
"Because of this increased consideration for patients' rights, [the figures] will change fundamentally," he said, adding that it would put an end to frequent episodes of people being wrongfully declared mentally ill.
The new law, which has been debated for a quarter of a century, is meant to crack down on local authorities aiming to silence petitioners and troublemakers by arbitrarily declaring them mentally ill and locking them up in mental health wards.
Under the law, patients must first give their consent to being hospitalised, except in cases in which they could harm themselves or others.
If patients are still forcibly confined, they or their guardians have the right to seek a second opinion. Forced hospitalisations for reasons other than severe mental illness are banned.
Last week about 200 health practitioners from the region were sent to Xu's hospital to be trained in the new provisions on patients' rights stipulated by the new law, the Xinjiang Daily reported.
Two million people in Xinjiang live with mental disabilities, Xu estimated, amounting to more than 9 per cent of the population in the economic backwater of China's remote northwest.
That compares with almost 8 per cent of China's population diagnosed with some form of mental illness, according to the Ministry of Health in 2011. A largescale 2009 study estimated a much higher national average at 17.5 per cent.
In Xinjiang, authorities have not been able to provide adquate resources to deal with the increasing number of people living with mental disorders. Xu told the Yaxin portal in 2011 that the number of mentally ill patients had increased by 20 to 30 per cent annually over the last years.
In Monday's report, he said less than 5 per cent of the two million mentally ill could receive treatment because of a lack of resources and trained staff.
Two years earlier, the regional government had reported plans to build 15 new mental hospitals and to expand current ones. Until now, only one additional hospital in Kashgar has been completed, the Yaxin report said.
In March, a gruesome murder of a seven-year-old Uygur boy by a Chinese man has caused tensions among ethnic communities in the Turpan prefecture east of Urumqi. The man had been declared mentally ill to prevent ethnic revenge attacks, locals told Radio Free Asia.