Concerns Rise over Chinas Mental Health Problems


2004-10-12
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HONG KONG—China's booming economy and rapid social change have come at a heavy price: increasing levels of mental health problems among its citizens.

"The mental health status of our country's children and youths is...worrying,"

Two of the country's major public health issues—suicide and schizophrenia—are linked to a rise in mental health problems, as Chinese health officials struggle to build an infrastructure to address it.

This week a Chinese Health Ministry statement warned the nation of an increase in mental health problems among Chinese children and young people.

Antisocial behavior

"The mental health status of our country's children and youths is indeed worrying," said a statement on the ministry's Web site.

It said the chances of youths with mental health problems developing drinking problems, drug addictions and criminal behavior was five to 10 times that of those without such problems.

"Problems with mental health have threatened the development of China's human resources."

"Our goal is to stop the growing trend of mental disease in children and teenagers and reduce the prevalence rate to 12 percent in 2010," Zhu Qingsheng, China's vice health minister, was quoted as saying by official media.

Statistics from the Health Ministry show that among the 340 million people under the age of 17 on the Chinese mainland, 30 million were suffering from mental or behavioral problems, Xinhua news agency said.

A survey of 22 Chinese provinces and cities showed that 12.97 percent of children and teenagers were found to have behavioral problems and that 16 percent of college students suffered from anxiety, fear, neurasthenia, or depression.

Suicide prevention plan needed

"Problems with mental health have threatened the development of China's human resources," Zhu said, on an occasion marking the 13th World Mental Health Day.

Across the broader population, recent studies have shown that more than 4.25 million Chinese people suffer from schizophrenia, and that of the 285,000 suicides that take place in the country each year, one in every 10 are schizophrenics.

"This is a major public health problem for the country that will require development of suicide-prevention strategies specifically for people with schizophrenia," said one study, published in the British weekly medical journal The Lancet last month.

According to China's Ministry of Health, at least 250,000 people commit suicide a year in China. That's a rate of around 20-30 per 10,000, compared with a worldwide average of 14.

Women hardest hit

A further 2 million attempt suicide, which has become the biggest cause of death for those between 15 and 35 years of age.

"The higher female than male suicide rate is unrivaled in the world. No other country has more women than men who kill themselves."

China has the highest rate of female suicide in the world, with most women who decide to end their own lives coming from less well-educated rural backgrounds, according to Chinese scholars and health officials, RFA's Mandarin service has reported.

"In China, women account for more than half of the people who commit suicide," Zhang Jie, assistant professor of sociology at New York State University in Buffalo, said in an interview. "The higher female than male suicide rate is unrivaled in the world. No other country has more women than men who kill themselves."

Zhang said that roughly twice as many men kill themselves as women in Southeast Asian countries, while the number of men taking their own lives in Western countries is around five times that of women.

Disadvantaged from birth

According to China's Ministry of Health, at least 250,000 people commit suicide a year in China. That's a rate of around 20-30 per 10,000, compared with a worldwide average of 14.

More than half of China's suicides are women, and the chief means they use to end their lives is from swallowing of pesticides. While some scholars point to a higher value given to males in tradition Confucian value systems, researchers on the ground blame a host of social, economic, and cultural factors.

Economically, rural Chinese women are still not independent, and have little economic clout. Male children are preferred over females, and girls in rural households can receive scant love and attention as they grow to maturity.

Opportunities for personal development and education for women are also lacking in China's countryside, with girls frequently excluded from schooling.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), suicide accounted for 85 percent of violent deaths in the Western Pacific region in 2000, far higher than the number of homicides. In Sri Lanka, where the suicide rate is the highest in the world, 55 out of every 10,000 people take their own lives.

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