The recent escape of 42 patients from a mental hospital in Tengxian county, Guangxi province reinforces the dire need for change in China’s mental health services and institutions.
SCMP reports that seven patients orchestrated the initial escape by taking doctors hostage and stealing keys to free themselves, while many other patients followed them to freedom. A search crew of 600, including 200 police officers and 400 security personnel tracked down the escaped patients and returned them to the hospital before the day was over.
Some, if not most, of these patients were in the Tengxian facility based on allegedly false and unjust pretences. According to Quartz people are often involuntarily committed to mental institutions due to disagreements with family members. Authorities will also have dissidents and activists classed as mentally ill in order to silence them. The media has dubbed the phenomena as being “mentally-illed”, where a person is diagnosed with a mental illness and then kept in hospital with little chance of release.
A Shanghai doctor estimates that nearly 80 percent of all patients receiving psychiatric care in China are being treated against their own will.
Quartz shares the story of one such “patient”, Chen Guoming:
[His] wife and relatives drugged, bound, and committed him to a psychiatric ward in 2011 after he refused to loan money to his father-in-law. Even after doctors overturned a diagnosis that Chen had a paranoia disorder, he wasn’t released until his sister vouched for him. In all, he was held for 56 days.
On May 1 a new law was put in effect in order to prevent wrongful and involuntary institutionalisation. The new regulations state that patient must consent before they receive treatment in a hospital, unless the patient is a danger to themselves or others. The law also states that patients now have a right to apply for discharge. While some in Beijing and Tianjin are being released, Huang Xuetao , president of the Equity and Justice Initiative believes that this escape in Tengxian were because “many other local governments aren’t taking any action.”
Furthermore, the law’s effectiveness is being doubted by many throughout the country. Loopholes are abundant and there is a lack of specificity on how severe a mental illness must be for someone to be involuntarily committed to a mental institution.
This apparent low criteria for being admitted to a mental hospital indefinitely doesn’t necessarily mean that the services are abundant or affordable. One family spoke to reporters of their repeated attempts to have their schizophrenic son treated for his disease. However, expensive hospital bills and lack of support from the local government have left them no choice but to take care of the 35 year old man by themselves. The family say they have little choice but to lock their son in an iron cage, where he eats, sleeps, and defecates.
School massacres, suicides and numerous other instances show an alarming increase in mental health problems across the country. A 2009 study indicated that 17.5 percent of China’s adult population suffered from a mental illness (in comparison, 26.2 percent of Americans suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year) and it was estimated that depression, the second most diagnosed disease in the country, costs the economy 52 billion yuan per year due to work absences, hospital bills and funerals.
[Image via: Baidu]