Monday, March 29, 2010

School killings in China reveal problems with mental health care there

From China Daily:

NANPING, Fujian, China - A man alleged to be mentally ill stabbed eight school children to death and injured five others on March 23 in Fujian province, a tragedy which experts said once again points to inadequacies in the treatment of such people.

Police arrested the man identified as Zheng Mingsheng, a former community doctor in Nanping city, according to Huang Zhongping, spokesman for the city's public security bureau.

Zheng, born in 1968, is a native of Nanping and used to work at the Mazhan community clinic before he resigned in June 2009, Huang said.

Zheng is said to have a history of mental illness, and local reports said he was fired by the community clinic for mental health problems.

"Sometimes he acted abnormally but we never imagined he would do such a cruel thing," a community resident said.

The attack happened at 7:20 am at the entrance of Nanping Experimental Primary School.

Zheng charged into a group of students wielding a 25-cm knife, witness Gan Guiping, the school's PE instructor, told China Daily.

"They don't allow me to live and drive me crazy. I will not spare them," Gan recalled Zheng as shouting repeatedly.

He said the attack lasted less than a minute, and three died at the scene.

"After being stabbed, some of the students rose, stumbled a few steps and then fell," Gan said with tears in his eyes.

"I saw them die in front of me."

Cai Luyan, director of the school's moral education section, said the attack took the students by total surprise.

"A boy in Grade 1 was stabbed to death in front of his mother," Cai said.

Zheng was subdued by passers-by and school security guards, said Wu Jiachong, owner of a store who called the police.

The school, which has 2,000 students, was closed for the day and the students were taken home by their families, Xinhua News Agency reported.

"My mind went blank when my son's teacher called me at 8 am, saying he had been stabbed," said Lu Yanping, mother of 12-year-old Liu Luyi, at the intensive care unit of Nanping People's Hospital

"He is still in critical condition."

Police will release details of the investigation as soon as possible, local authorities said.
The local government has assigned 20 therapists to the school to deal with possible post-traumatic stress, said Liao Hanren, deputy head of the municipal education bureau.

Classes are scheduled to resume Wednesday, and psychological counseling will be provided, Liao said.

The latest tragedy again highlights the threat to social security posed by the lack of treatment for the mentally ill. Only one in five such patients gets professional treatment in the country, which has more than 16 million people suffering mental problems, experts estimated.

They blamed low awareness of the possible danger and widespread discrimination against the mentally ill for the situation.

A national mental health law, first drafted in the 1980s, aims to provide the mentally ill with legal protection and subsidized health care.

Once passed, patients without family support will have access to free shelter and treatment provided by the government.

Pang Yu, a doctor at Beijing Huilongguan Hospital, a leading psychiatric hospital in the country, said the legislation has been shelved because of the huge funds required.

Currently, only a few prosperous provinces and cities such as Beijing, Shanghai and Guangdong have drafted regional regulations on mental health.

Patients largely depend on families for help, financially and psychologically, Pang noted.

"Without national legislation and government funding, the problem cannot be solved," he noted.

So far legislation exists for only one disease, AIDS, for which patients have access to free treatment and drugs.

That costs the central government several billion yuan each year, official figures show.