Worrying scenario for mentally ill in China and India Experts fear it will aggravate
[Global Times Round up] “The number of mentally ill patients in India and China stands at one third of the total, which is far more than the total number of patients in the developed countries, but only very few of them are able to receive effective treatment.”
According to the latest reports in the well-known medical journal “Lancet”, mental health care in the two most populous countries leaves much to be desired. Experts warn the situation in the coming decades may further deteriorate. The situation in India is particularly worrisome.
A May 19 report in Hong Kong’s “South China Morning Post” says that in the last ten years the total number of people suffering from mental and neurological disorders in China and India has clearly shown an upward trend. At present, in China less than 6% of the patients are actively treated, whereas in India only about one out of ten patients are able to get any useful help.
Researchers believe there are multiple reasons for this huge shortfall in mental healthcare. First of all, given the current shortage of trained mental health professionals in India and China, it becomes difficult for the patients to get medical attention. The situation in the rural areas is especially alarming. One of the main authors of the report, Professor Michael Phillips of Emory University (USA) and Shanghai Jiaotong University said in some areas there are patients with obvious mental disorder symptoms but they are not even diagnosed, let alone being given treatment. On the contrary, the proportion of such ailments getting treated in developed countries exceeds 70%. Second, there is limited financial investment in mental health care in these two countries. Statistics reveal that less than 1% of the national health budget in either country is allocated to mental health care. In US, the health care budget in this field is nearly 6% while in Germany and France it is more than 10%. Other than lack of medical and financial resources, the cultural outlook and social inequalities too affect the treatment of mentally ill persons. For example a lot of people look upon suffering from mental illness as “shameful” and these illnesses affect job opportunities and social economic status. All these factors lead the patients to “suffer in silence”.
Although in recent years China and India have come up with policies favoring mentally ill patients, these measures still fall short of the actual requirement. Researchers suggest the two countries could draw upon the support of those engaged in traditional and alternative medicines to complete the gap in health care. For example practitioners of Chinese medicine and yoga could participate in the diagnosis of the ailment and help in recovery. Secretary General of the Chinese Psychological Society registered Working Committee of Clinical Psychology, Xu Kaiwen, told “Global Times” reporter in an interview that “Lancet” data definitely makes sense. In 2005 the incidence of mental disorders in China was 17.5%, or 248 million Chinese people suffered from mental disorders. This figure is so large because China is the most populous country of the world. But it is noteworthy that the incidence of mental illness in China is not at all the highest in the world, the incidence of mental illness in United States is 26.4% which is much higher than in China or India.
Xu Kaiwen pointed out that the rapid increase in the incidence of mental illness in China and the influence of Western culture in recent years are certainly interlinked. The incidence of mental illness in 1990s was only 1.12% in China. One can say the takeoff of Chinese economy and the rapid rise in the number of mentally ill patients was almost simultaneous. Society is changing very fast; actual working hours have become longer, technological progress has triggered global anxiety. The invention of internet and mobile phone, for example, has removed boundaries. Often people can be seen working after office hours also. There is excessive pursuit of money and material goods. These are the key reasons for the increase in the incidence of mental illnesses in society. Xu Kaiwen said there used to be higher incidence of mental illness at the turn of the seasons but now this characteristic is changing with an overall rise in the incidence of mental illness. Besides this, the environment too has taken its toll on people’s mental health.
Xu Kaiwen told the “Global Times” reporter, at present there is an acute scarcity of mental health professionals in China. There are only about 20,000 psychiatrists in the entire country, which is a very low proportion of the total population. In fact most of the light mental illnesses like depression, require professional psychological counselors and personnel for psychotherapy, besides medicines . To solve the psychological problems of Chinese people, we cannot follow the Western way and rely solely on drugs. There should be more emphasis on prevention and improvement of health services, with particular focus on shaping a more harmonious and beautiful social and family environment.
(GT special correspondent in Singapore: Chen Mujia GT reporter: Bai Yunyi)