China Youth Daily reported today on disputes over China’s new mental health law, set to come out later this year. The piece is quite frank about how under the current law, dating from 1985, powers to forcibly section those suffering mental illnesses have been abused to stop petitioners (上访户）from petitioning and to settle personal disputes, causing sane people to end up in mental hospitals.
To deal with this problem the new law is meant to ensure mental health assessment by an independent tribunal for anyone who is forcibly sectioned. But according to the article, there are disputes about who the tribunal should be composed of, with lawyers arguing that more members of the public should be included, while doctors prefer a larger number of other medical professonals. Also there won’t be enough resources to provide a tribunal in each case, according to a Beida doctor quoted in the article.
It looks like the huge lack of resources for mental health treatment is the underlying issue. According to the article, an estimated 16 million people in China suffer from severe mental illnesses, but there are only 2 million mental hospital beds available. The shortfall, as well as the poor quality of mental health services in China is a probable factor in of a number of cases of violence in China recently, something acknowledged by Chinese media. So how disputes about this new law play out is worth paying attention to over the coming months.