Life in Shadows for Mentally Ill in China, With Violent Flares

The New York Times revisits the case of an assailant who attacked school children with a cleaver and was a suspected schizophrenic to look at the state of mental health care in China:

It has been nearly 35 years since the end of the Cultural Revolution, when mental illness was declared a bourgeois self-delusion and the sick were treated with readings from Chairman Mao. Psychiatric treatment has returned. But mental health remains a medical backwater, desperately short of financing, practitioners and esteem.

Too often, the official response to mental illness is to look the other way. The government authorities, already shaken by an attack the previous month in which eight schoolchildren were stabbed to death, threw a news blackout over the Xizhen incident lest it inspire copycats or incite further outrage.

At least three of six men whose attacks near schoolyards this year left 21 people dead had earlier appeared deranged or suicidal, according to news reports. But in the highest-level statement on the killings, Prime Minister Wen Jiabao said only that China needed to resolve “social tensions” underlying the attacks.

Yan Jun, director of the mental health division of the Ministry of Health, refused repeated requests for an interview. The ministry said in a written statement that the government was “continuously strengthening” both its resources and professionals to provide mental health care.


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