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The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

China struggles with mental illness treatments

An ancient Chinese adage explains that to control a beast, you must first see it as beautiful. The inability of Chinese society to find beauty in those with mental disorders has led to cultural stigmas inhibiting treatment-seeking, inefficient mental health care, and lack of resources for patients and family members. Steadily, China’s beast is growing uglier, and the opportunities to control it are disappearing. 

A disquieting sequence of events involving attacks on Chinese children has received international attention. The attackers have been men believed to be suffering from serious mental illnesses such as schizophrenia. Unable to control their hallucinations, these men have unleashed their demons on the schoolyard.

Sociologists attribute these attacks to an apathetic attitude toward mental illness and the stress associated with China’s significant social inequalities, reports USA Today.

According to USA Today, there have been five assaults against children this year in China, leaving 17 dead and at least 50 injured. 

The attackers have been men described as deranged, in their 30s and 40s, armed with knives and hammers, probably due to heavy gun restrictions by the Chinese government. 

The government’s response to pleas for mental health treatment has been as invisible as the diseases. 

In April, Yang Jiaqin attacked his neighbor with an ax. Jiaqin was not arrested, and three days later, he embarked on a grizzly rampage, kitchen cleaver in hand. Two children were injured and another child’s throat was slashed. 

Two more citizens were murdered before he was detained, reports The New York Times. Despite intense schizophrenic symptoms, Jiaqin has received only one month of treatment in five years.

The victims’ families are holding the government and police accountable.

“They are completely responsible for this,” said Wu Huanglong, a victim’s father, to The New York Times. “They did not protect us.” 

Many believe these attacks could have been prevented.

“If he had been given medication and treatment, his illness would not have developed,” said Chief Doctor at the Hepu County Psychiatric Hospital Chen Guoqiang to The New York Times. “If he had been able to control his hallucinations, he would not have killed anyone.” 

With no national mental health law in place, not enough in-patient beds, an insufficient number of mental health professionals, and expensive government mental health resources, China’s mentally ill usually find themselves out of help, medication, and luck, according to The New York Times. 

Concerns about societal appearance and lack of government funding could be significant factors.

“It’s quite common to hear discriminatory remarks like ‘insane’ or ‘lunatic’ on TV or other media,” said psychiatrist Zheng Zhangpei to USA Today. “Lots of people dare not seek medication because they have concerns that they might be labeled ‘mad,’ they just endure their mental illness until they explode.”

The Chinese have considered mental illness a plague of other countries, a form of disease they are not vulnerable to, reports Business Week.

“It’s a problem of the West,” said Dr. Norman Sartorius, former director of the World Health Organization’s mental health program, to Business Week. “The Americans have depression. The English have depression. It’s their disease.”

The statistics prove otherwise. 

The data reflects the need to acknowledge, diagnose, treat, and accept the mentally ill. Last year a British medical journal, The Lancet, reported figures regarding China’s citizens suffering from mental disorders. Out of the 173 million people (17.5 percent of the population) that suffer from some type of mental disorder, over 158 million have not sought treatment. 

According to Business Week, for every 100,000 people, China suffers 22 suicides, compared to the global average of 15 per 100,000. 

Only one mental health professional is available per 100,000 people, and a degree, even in the mental health field, is not a requirement. In Europe, there is one mental health professional for every 3,000-5,000 people. 

“The government has to invest more so that we can take care of all the patients who need treatment, regardless of whether or not the family can pay for it,” said Dr. Chen, chief doctor of Shanghai’s Psychiatric Hospital to The New York Times.

Without the support of mental health facilities, would-be patients and their families are left to drastic and devastating last resorts.

Although it is not too late for the Chinese government to work to understand mental illnesses, invest in public awareness, and provide affordable, accessible health care, it is yet to be seen if the adage will prove true; the question remains whether China will be able to reign in this beast by first recognizing its complexities and accepting its beauty.

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