Saturday, 15 December 2012

China's new mental health law - what's changed?

The new Mental Health Law does little to help those with mental illness lead an independent life and be accepted by society.
by Elizabeth M. Lynch
After 25 years of discussion, and two rounds of very vocal public comments in the past year, on October 26, 2012, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress finally passed its Mental Health Law.
One of the major improvements to the law since earlier drafts is the removal of the provision that specifically permitted involuntary commitment if the individual’s behavior was deemed to be “disturbing public order” or “endangering public safety”. Earlier drafts which included that clause were vigorously attacked by both Chinese and foreign experts noting that such a provision would give carte blanche to the police to involuntarily commit anyone who expressed a dissenting view.  As Chinese Human Rights Defenders (“CHRD”) highlighted in its seminal report on China’s mental hospitals, The Darkest Corners: Abuses of Involuntary Psychiatric Commitment in China, some of China’s many mental hospital “patients” are in fact dissidents who were involuntarily committed outside of any court process for expressing their dissenting views.
Deletion of this provision is certainly a step forward there are still aspects of the adopted law that make it far less than ideal and demonstrates the continued need for better protections for the mentally ill in China.
However, family members are still able to commit an individual against his or her will
In addition to voluntary commitment, Article 28 of the Mental Health Law still permits family members to involuntarily commit an individual that the family member suspects has a mental illness.  In effect, the Mental Health Law places the family in a separate sphere that assumes that family will not abuse the process.

In reality, the Mental Health Law does little to foster an environment where those with mental illness can lead an independent life and be accepted by society. Furthermore, although the law discusses the very real (and dire) need to increase the number of mental health professionals in China, that has remained aspirational. As of yet, the Chinese government has remained silent on how much money and what incentives it will provide to achieve that goal. Providing adequate and sufficient medical assistance for those suffering from mental illness is just as important to making sure that those individuals will be able to lead a full life.
Read more: China Law and Policy

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