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China’s mental health care system is struggling to keep up

Posted on 06-26-15 in Mental Health

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According to a 2009 study published in The Lancet, there are roughly 173 million Chinese who suffer from mental illnesses. Sadly, there are only 20,000 licensed psychiatrists in China, leaving just 1.5 clinicians for every 100,000 people. China’s public health system is fighting to keep up with the high demand for mental health treatment services.

It is estimated that only five percent of the Chinese population with a mental health disorder receive professional help from a psychiatrist, according to Michael Phillips, director of the Shanghai Mental Health Center at Shanghai Jiao Tong University. Phillips states “The factors that affect the low care seeking rates are many” and that “lack of awareness that they suffer from a psychiatric condition , lack of locally available mental health services, fear of stigma, belief that seeking psychological help will be useless, costs, etc.”

In response to the country’s high demand for mental health treatment, many under-qualified practitioners have started practicing psychiatry throughout the country. There have been complaints from the public about unregistered psychiatrists engaging in unlawful practices with patients. The lack of proper mental health care resources has led many of these patients to get worse over time. Already angry with the services they have received, this demographic of people grows even more hesitant to seek further help from a psychiatrist, according to Dr. Sammy Cheng Kin-wing, chairman of the Division of Clinical Psychology. Professor Phillips added that “there are uneducated subgroups in China that are gullible,” falling victim to these unethical and unlawful practices.

The occurrence of mental illness in China increased over 50 percent between 2003 and 2008. While some of these occurrences could simply be due to improvements in diagnosing those who have them, some of these instances of mental illness could be due to increases in stress due to harsh life circumstances. Depression is the most commonly diagnosed mental health disorder in China and it incurs great economic costs due to medical expenses and absenteeism from work. In 2007, China’s Medical Association estimated that two-thirds of people who struggle with depression had suicidal thoughts at some point and 15 to 25 percent ended their own lives.

Other issues regarding China’s health care system involve its lack of insurance coverage among the country’s large population. According to recent statistics, only 7,000 people have been covered by health insurance for free inpatient treatment and 45,000 are covered for free outpatient care. In the city of Beijing, roughly 90 percent of patients suffering from mental illnesses do not receive mental health treatment because it is too expensive or hospitals simply do not have room for more patients.

Some small steps have been taken to correct these problems in China’s mental health care system. The Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security has been altering the criteria for certifying mental health counselors. These workers will have the ability to treat patients who are struggling with minor symptoms of depression, which will lessen the work of licensed physicians and psychologists who can address more severe mental health cases. Other steps include bringing in foreign physicians to help train local students on proper mental health practices and sending some of them overseas for specialized training.

In 2009, the World Health Organization (WHO) stated that mental illness had overtaken heart disease and cancer as the biggest concern with China’s health care system. While small steps toward treating mental illness are being taken, a large gap still exists between the prevalence of mental illnesses in China and the actual level of mental health treatment options that are offered and affordable to its citizens.

Mental illness is a condition affecting a large portion of the global population. Sovereign Health Group is among the leading mental health treatment providers in the U.S. We offer a variety of inpatient and outpatient treatment options for patients who are suffering from mental health disorders, drug addiction and dual diagnosis. If you know someone who is struggling with a mental health disorder and is in need of help, please do not hesitate to call or talk to a member of our team online to find the right treatment option for you.

Written by Benjamin Creekmore, Sovereign Health Group writer