Beheading of Chinese noodle shop owner ‘highlights crisis in psychiatric care’

Families weighed down by ‘unbearable burden’ to look after patients

PUBLISHED : Monday, 20 February, 2017, 2:53pm
UPDATED : Monday, 20 February, 2017, 11:33pm

The shocking beheading of a noodle shop owner by a former psychiatric patient on the weekend highlights a broader crisis in the mainland’s mental health care system, specialists said.

The concerns over the treatment for people with psychiatric problems surfaced after police ­arrested a 22-year-old migrant worker over the death of the shop owner in Wuhan, Hubei province, on Saturday.

The worker, identified only by his surname Hu, had spent six months in a psychiatric hospital before being discharged last year because his condition had improved, the West China City Daily reported yesterday.

Hu was a neat dresser, a poor communicator and easily irritated, according to a doctor’s assessment before he was dis­charged. Hu was classified as suffering from the second-highest level of “mental impairment” in a four-tier system but the report did not refer to a specific diagnosis.

Police arrested Hu after he allegedly cut off the shop owner’s head over a billing dispute.

Customer cuts off noodle shop owner’s head in fight over bill

Mental health specialists said Hu’s case reflected the difficulties facing patients and families struggling with psychiatric illness.

The National Health and Family Planning Commission said that in 2014 there were 4.3 million people on the mainland with a severe mental illness but just 1.49 psychiatrists for every 100,000 people.

Another study published in the British medical journal The Lancet in 2009 estimated there were 173 million people with various kinds of mental illnesses in the country, and of those 158 million did not get access to professional treatment.

Xie Bin, vice-president of the Shanghai Mental Health Centre, said families and local communities were usually responsible for ensuring patients had access to treatment.

But many people with serious conditions, especially in rural areas, did not have someone to look after them, Xie said.

Caged in the woods: Chinese mentally ill woman locked up as family can’t afford treatment

Huang Xuetao, a Shenzhen-based lawyer and a major contributor to the country’s first set of mental-health laws published in 2012, said families alone could not bear the burden of responsibility for psychiatric patients.

“It was obvious that Hu’s family did not know how to cope with his illness and had lost control of him despite his tendency towards violence,” Huang said.

Only an “all-rounded service” for patients – involving more psychiatrists and social workers – could cut the risk of similar tragedies in the future, he said.