Help needed for mentally ill people in China and India

They account for more than 30% of those afflicted in world but few of them get treatment

PARIS • China and India are home to more than a third of people worldwide suffering from mental illness, but only a tiny fraction of them receive medical help, said studies released yesterday.

There are more people in the world's two most populous countries coping with mental, neurological and substance-use problems than in all high-income countries combined, the research found.

That burden will become much heavier in the coming decades, especially in India, where it is projected to increase by a quarter by 2025.

China, meanwhile, will struggle with the rapid rise of dementia in its greying population, a by-product in part of strict birth control policies put in place more than 35 years ago.

Neither country is adequately equipped to deal with its mental health needs, reported the trio of reports, which were published in medical journals The Lancet and The Lancet Psychiatry to mark the launch of the China-India Mental Health Alliance, an initiative that aims to build partnerships between leading mental health researchers.

Both India and China have recently implemented progressive policies providing for the needs of their mentally ill, but reality on the ground has not yet caught up, the studies showed.

In China, only 6 per cent of people coping with common mental illnesses, such as depression or anxiety disorders, or with substance abuse and dementia, even seek out a doctor, researchers found.

The lack of mental health manpower in rural areas is especially acute, explained Dr Michael Phillips, one of the lead authors and a professor at Emory University in Atlanta and at Shanghai Jiao Tong University.

More than half of those with full-blown psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia are not diagnosed, much less cared for, he said in a statement.

In India, the percentage of the population with untended mental health problems is equally large.

By contrast, treatment rates in rich countries are 70 per cent and higher.

The divide between developed countries and these emerging giants is equally sharp when it comes to money spent. Less than 1 per cent of national healthcare budgets in China and India is allocated to mental healthcare.

In the United States, that figure is nearly 6 per cent, while in Germany and France, it rises to 10 per cent or more.

Both India and China have recently implemented progressive policies providing for the needs of their mentally ill, but reality on the ground has not yet caught up, the studies showed.

Dr Vikram Patel, a professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said of India: "The treatment gaps, especially in rural areas, are very large."

It could take decades for each country's medical systems to fill these gaps, the reports concluded.

But the researchers suggested that a large cadre of traditional practitioners - yogis in India, Chinese medicine doctors in China - could be trained to recognise such problems and help with treatment.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 19, 2016, with the headline 'Help needed for mentally ill people in China and India'. Print Edition | Subscribe