Scale of mental illness in China underestimated

Fri Jun 12, 2009 5:18am EDT
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HONG KONG (Reuters) - A study in China has found that as many as 173 million adults, about 13 percent of the population, have some form of mental disorder, and 158 million of them have never received any professional help.

The study, published in the Lancet, said previous reports had substantially underestimated the extent of mental illness in China's 1.3 billion-strong population and the burden it placed on the quality of peoples' lives.

In many countries, neuropsychiatric conditions are the leading cause of ill health in men and women, with a disease burden far exceeding that of infectious diseases or cardiovascular disease.

However, efforts to improve services to people who are mentally ill have been hampered by a lack of data showing the extent and the seriousness of the problem.

The Chinese survey screened an initial total of 63,004 people in the four Chinese provinces of Shandong, Zhejiang, Qinghai and Gansu. These four provinces represent 12 percent of China's adult population.

Of these, 16,577 -- comprising mostly participants assessed to be at highest risk of suffering mental illness -- went through a second round of detailed testing by psychiatrists.

Findings showed that 17.5 percent of them (63,004) had some form of mental disorder, way higher than previous studies which reported figures of between 1.1 percent to 9.1 percent.

According to the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health, mental disorders are common in the United States and internationally. An estimated 26.2 percent of Americans ages 18 and older, about one in four adults, suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year.

Mental disorders include mood disorders, anxiety disorders, substance abuse and psychosis, like schizophrenia.   Continued...