According to World Health Organization (WHO) figures, there has been a continual rise in cases of patients with common mental illnesses across the globe in the recent past.
Between 1990 and 2013, the number of patients suffering from depression or anxiety disorders was up nearly 50 percent, jumping from 416 million to 615 million worldwide.
It is estimated that almost 10 percent of the global population is having mental health issues of various degrees. And mental illnesses are now said to account for 30 percent of non-lethal diseases around the world.
As far as mainland China is concerned, the development of its public mental healthcare sector has remained sluggish over the years, and has been plagued by an acute shortage of resources and serious imbalance in resource allocations.
At present, there are a total of 1,650 professional mental health institutions and over 20,000 psychiatrists across the mainland. And currently there are 228,000 hospital beds for psychiatry.
That might sound quite impressive, but if we put the numbers in perspective, we can find that China is extremely short of mental health professionals.
For example, on average there are currently only 4.36 hospital beds per 10,000 people across the nation, and just 1.49 psychiatrists per 100,000 citizens.
Public mental healthcare services across the mainland are predominantly available at provincial and prefectural levels. A nationwide rehabilitation and support service system for mental patients at community levels is largely absent even to this day.
The majority of mainlanders, particularly those living in rural areas, still don’t have access to services provided either by qualified psychiatrists or psychological therapists.
Besides, overall public awareness about mental disorders and psychological behavioral problems such as anxiety and depression has remained low among mainlanders, not to mention that mental patients are still highly stigmatized in society.
As a result, many people in the mainland suffering from psychiatric conditions simply avoid seeking proper treatments.
The rapid growth in the numbers of mental patients in the mainland in recent years has become a cause for concern within the National Health and Family Planning Commission (NHFPC).
On its official website, the NHFPC has published a report on the recent trend in the spread of mental disorders across the nation, in which it has identified five most common mental health conditions among mainland citizens, with anxiety disorder being ranked Number 1.
Meanwhile, the report also confirms that the percentage of mainland population aged 65 or above that is suffering from either dementia or Alzheimer’s disease stands at 5.56 percent, and is continually rising.
Given this situation, I believe the provision of public mental health services in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area project should be undertaken with proper planning.
As compared to the mainland, Hong Kong currently has a far more mature public mental healthcare system in place.
Now, if our system and model of management is projected into the Greater Bay Area, the scale and quality of the public mental health services in the Area can be improved.
We suggest that authorities establish a trans-disciplinary and diversified mental healthcare service system in the Bay Area based on Hong Kong’s model, including on aspects such as hospitalization, out-patient care, medical rehabilitation and community support services.
Meanwhile, in view of the latest international trend in mental health treatments, under which emphasis is placed on non-hospitalized care and community-based service, we would also like to suggest that the authorities consider introducing a case management mechanism for mental patients to the Greater Bay Area, and establish a reasonable ratio of case managers to patients based on Hong Kong’s own model.
Coming to Hong Kong itself, though the place has a definite advantage over other cities in the Greater Bay Area in terms of development of public mental healthcare services, there are still a number of issues with the territory’s own system that need to be addressed promptly before the city’s experience is applied to the Bay Area.
The issues include the pressing need to train more mental healthcare practitioners, unreasonably short follow-up consultation time for mental patients at public psychiatric clinics, unsatisfactory case-manager-to-patient ratio, etc.
I hope the Hong Kong government will divert more resources for resolving these issues in the coming days.
At the same time, the administration must also provide more information and training for family members of mental patients and mental health-carers so as to enable them to understand patients’ needs more accurately and identify their emotional and behavioral changes as quickly as possible.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Aug 21
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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