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New York Times article on mental health treatment in China.

November 11, 2010

The New York Times is currently carrying an article on how one man diagnosed with schizophrenia received inadequate care, leading him to murder several people in his village including a young child.

It has been nearly 35 years since the end of the Cultural Revolution, when mental illness was declared a bourgeois self-delusion and the sick were treated with readings from Chairman Mao. Psychiatric treatment has returned. But mental health remains a medical backwater, desperately short of financing, practitioners and esteem.

Too often, the official response to mental illness is to look the other way. The government authorities, already shaken by an attack the previous month in which eight schoolchildren were stabbed to death, threw a news blackout over the Xizhen incident lest it inspire copycats or incite further outrage.

At least three of six men whose attacks near schoolyards this year left 21 people dead had earlier appeared deranged or suicidal, according to news reports. But in the highest-level statement on the killings, Prime Minister Wen Jiabao said only that China needed to resolve “social tensions” underlying the attacks.

The perspective that social tensions can lie at the root of mental illness is certainly a worthwhile corrective perspective for the Western understanding of mental illness (where everything is blamed on invidividual psychopathology), but it is a potential obstacle to providing mental health services to mentall ill people in China.


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