Chinese Patients Suffering From Serious Mental Illness Rising at Alarming Rate

More and more people in China are being diagnosed with serious mental health issues, recent government data has revealed.

According to the National Health and Family Planning Commission, serious mental illnesses affected 5.4 million Chinese people by the end of 2016, with 75% of them diagnosed with schizophrenia, a severe but treatable condition characterized by “profound disruptions in thinking, affecting language, perception, and the sense of self”.

The latest figure signifies a rise of 300,000 mental health patients when compared to 2015, China Daily reports. Wang Bin, the commission’s disease control and prevention deputy director, noted that health authorities are managing about 88% of the 5.4 million registered patients.

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In China, serious mental illness patients are provided with preferential reimbursement through the government’s basic health insurance program, while outpatients can obtain free basic medication in cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, and Changsha, Hunan Province. Bin explained that patients in the countryside are among the most vulnerable, as over half of them live below the poverty line.

To address the spike in the patients’ number, the Ministry of Civil Affairs is seeking to provide community-based rehabilitation services to over 80% of all counties and cities throughout the country by 2025.  There will also be a significant increase in government spending to improve available health services in communities, according to the agency’s released guideline; however, the guideline stated that families are also expected to play an important role in the community-based rehabilitation of patients. Experts pointed out that such a problem is worsened due to “lack of care” at the community level.

A patient identified only as Zheng was diagnosed with schizophrenia nine years ago, and received a year of treatment at Peking University Sixth Hospital in Beijing. His classmates and friends observed that during episodes of attacks, Zheng would engage in “wild conversations with imaginary people” and make delusional claims. While his condition has since stabilized after his treatment, he said he felt “disconnected from society after nine years of illness”.

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Psychiatrist Ma Hong, who has been treating Zheng, also serves as the deputy director at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Mental Health Center. “One of the most serious problems is the high incidence of recurrence of the illness. About one-third of patients have a recurrence about six months after being discharged from the hospital, while about 40 percent have a recurrence a year after,” Ma was quoted as saying.

She noted that after leaving the hospital, patients would sometimes refuse or forget to take their medication. “Treatment should not stop at the hospital. It should be extended to the communities in which patients live, otherwise they will continue to move between their communities and hospitals for repeated treatment,” she added.

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