China’s Involuntary Commitment System: An Update

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I wrote about this issue back in April and had this to say:

A lot of abuses have occurred over the years because the system gives local police too much autonomy in determining mental status. Someone making trouble for the biggest company in the city? If they have sufficient guanxi with the police, that person might end up at the nearest psychiatric hospital, even if that person has not committed a crime. In fact, when no charges can be brought, and yet the individual is causing trouble to powerful locals, involuntary commitment of this sort can sometimes be the punishment of choice.

China Daily updates their earlier story with an article about a report put out by two local charitable institutions:

Members of the legal profession have warned that loopholes in China’s current system of compulsory mental health treatment are at risk of forcing healthy people into psychiatric hospitals.

A report compiled by two civil charities, the Psychosis and Social Observation and the Shenzhen-based Hengping Institute, pointed out the abusive and disorderly use of the system, which has been in practice for more than 100 years.

The report, released on Sunday, World Mental Health Day, was based on a three-year study of more than 100 cases of forced psychiatric treatment, 30 laws and regulations on the subject, as well as 300 news reports.

It was issued following recent media reports about forced treatment for the healthy people in psychiatric hospitals.

None of this should come as a surprise to anyone who has even a passing familiarity with this issue. However, a study like this that documents abuses and attracts additional attention to the problem is well received.

The question now is what the government will do about the problem. I’m actually cautiously optimistic. This issue combines a health care need (i.e. mental health services) with abuses by local officials (e.g. police) and greedy medical professionals and institutions. In light of the recent rules on improper judicial conduct relating to incarceration, this problem might already be on Beijing’s “To Do List.”

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