Law Stops Forced Psychiatric Treatment

Xinhua reports that, after almost 30 years of efforts, China has adopted its first mental health law to protect patient privacy and other rights, and to combat the problem of wrongful institutionalisation.

Under the new law, there should be no infringements upon the dignity, personal safety or the property of mentally ill people.

The law also stipulates that institutions and individuals should protect the privacy of mentally ill people by preventing leaks of private information, such as their names, addresses and employment status, unless the sharing of such data is necessary for institutions and individuals while exercising their lawful duties.

China currently has about 16 million people suffering from severe mental disorders, according to the Ministry of Health.

[…] The law is expected to curb abuses regarding compulsory mental health treatment and protect citizens from undergoing unnecessary treatment or illegal hospitalization.

Xinhua notes the 2011 case of Chen Guoming, held in an asylum for 56 days at his wife’s instructions after he refused to lend money to her family. But forced psychiatric incarceration has also been used as a political weapon against activists, petitioners and whistleblowers. From Reuters’ Sui-Lee Wee:

“We welcome it because having a law is better than not having one,” Nicholas Bequelin, a researcher at Human Rights Watch, a New York-based advocacy group, told Reuters.

“The most important thing that this law does is it will allow civil society to step in to monitor and press for improvement in the management of mental health in China, including … pushing for greater transparency and progressive curtailment of police rights.”

[…] But Bequelin said he was still concerned about China’s police-run psychiatric hospitals, which confine people the authorities consider troublemakers.