An Executive Meeting of the State Council, China's cabinet,
discussed and approved in principle the draft Mental Health Law on
September 19, which was open for public feedback in June. But the
lawmaking process that started in 1985 remains unfinished, as the
law still needs to be reviewed and voted on by the top
Coming at a time when China's health system is dealing with
growing numbers of mental patients, the law will undoubtedly play a
positive role in promoting mental health care in the country.
According to the World Health Organization, mental illness is
among the most widespread and serious threats to human health in
the 21st century.
China is experiencing a period of rapid economic growth and
social change, and its citizens now face a great deal of social
pressure. This has led to mental illness becoming more
Data from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention
show more than 100 million Chinese are suffering from mental
illness, of whom more than 16 million, or one in 13, are seriously
Mental illness causes one fifth of China's total medical
expenses, more than cardio-cerebral vascular diseases, respiratory
diseases or cancer. This share is expected to rise to one fourth by
Despite the high prevalence of mental disorders, China's system
for the treatment of mental illness remains weak. Well-equipped
mental institutions and professional medical staff are in short
supply. Currently, China has only 19,000 certified psychiatrists.
At the grassroots level, only a small percentage of mentally ill
people have been identified and treated. Low public awareness and
insufficient government investment have made it difficult to
diagnose and treat mental disorders.
Not only does China lack an adequate institutional base to deal
with the mentally ill, the country's laws and legal system lack
provisions to protect the legitimate rights and interests of people
with mental disorders. Only four provinces and municipalities
directly under the Central Government have mental health
As a result of these shortcomings, many mentally ill people have
never received any treatment, and some have caused injury to
themselves and others.
The draft Mental Health Law has spelled out standards for the
prevention, diagnosis and institutional treatment of mental
disorders. It focuses on protecting the legitimate rights,
interests and dignity of mentally ill people, and ensures they will
receive timely psychiatric therapy.
It also includes provisions that govern the management of
seriously ill mental patients. Strict legal punishments have been
specified for those who intentionally send normal individuals to
mental institutions, and those mental institutions that diagnose
patients as mentally ill without proper mental health