China Passes Law to Curb Abuse of Mental Hospitals
BEIJING - China’s legislature on Friday passed a long-awaited mental health law that aims to prevent people from being involuntarily held and unnecessarily treated in psychiatric facilities - abuses that have been used against government critics and triggered public outrage.
The law standardizes mental health care services, requiring general hospitals to set up special outpatient clinics or provide counseling, and calls for the training of more doctors.
Debated for years, the law attempts to address an imbalance in Chinese society - a lack of mental health care services for a population that has grown more prosperous but also more aware of modern-day stresses and the need for treatment. Psychiatrists who helped draft and improve the legislation welcomed its passage.
"The law will protect the rights of mental patients and prevent those who don’t need treatment from being forced to receive it," said Dr. Liu Xiehe, an 85-year-old psychiatrist based in the southwestern city of Chengdu, who drafted the first version of the law in 1985.
"Our mental health law is in line with international standards. This shows the government pays attention to the development of mental health and the protection of people’s rights in this area," Liu told The Associated Press by phone.
Pressure has grown on the government in recent years after state media and rights activists reported cases of people forced into mental hospitals when they did not require treatment. Some were placed there by employers with whom they had wage disputes, some by their family members in fights over money, and others - usually people with grievances against officials - by police who wanted to silence them.
Yang Yamei, of the Inner Mongolian city of Hulunbuir, has been locked up at a local mental hospital for the last eight months in what her daughter says is retaliation for her attempts to seek compensation from the government for a court ruling that unfairly sentenced her to three years in a labor camp.
This is the third time in four years that she has been forcibly committed, her daughter Guo Dandan said by phone.