China’s First National Mental Health Law Takes Effect

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May 23 – China’s first national Mental Health Law (hereinafter referred to as the ‘Law’), which has taken almost 27 years to draft, came into effect on May 1, 2013.  The Law for the first time explicitly forbids the involuntary confinement of individuals with mental disorders, and offers greater protection to employees suffering from such disorders. Detailed information can be found below.

Forbidding involuntary treatment

In recent years, the Chinese government has been facing mounting pressure to enact such a law due to the growing number of cases describing individuals who have been wrongly institutionalized. According to Xie Bingwu, Professor at Shanghai Mental Health Center, around 80 percent of the patients in Shanghai’s mental hospitals are involuntarily incarcerated.

One of the main objectives of the Mental Health Law  is to prevent people from being involuntarily held and treated in mental hospitals. The Law explicitly states that patients with mental disorders (with the exception of those with severe mental illness and have committed, or are likely to commit, acts harming themselves or endangering the safety of others) shall receive inpatient treatment on a voluntary basis.

Moreover, the Law gives individuals who feel they have been wrongly institutionalized the right to request for re-diagnosis and appraisals.

Imposing duties on employers

As the only national law that deals with mentally disordered employee management in the country, the Law has imposed heavier burdens on employers and offers more protection to employees with mental disorders.

For the purpose of the Law, “mental disorder” refers to disorders or abnormalities of perception, sentiment, thinking, or other mental activities that are caused by various reasons, which then lead to obvious psychological pain or dysfunctional social adaptation.

The Law requires employers to create a work environment that is beneficial to the physical and psychological health of their employees, and also requires them to carry out mental health education. Moreover, based on the actual conditions facing patients with mental disorders, employers shall arrange them to undertake work within their capacity, ensure equal treatment for them when compared with other employees, and arrange necessary vocational skill training for them.

All relevant entities shall keep the personal information of patients suffering from mental disorders confidential, such as name, portrait, address, employer, medical records and other information from which the patients’ identities could be inferred, except for those that shall be disclosed for the purpose of performing lawful duties.

Failure to observe the above-mentioned confidentiality requirements will result in liability for damage. The relevant entities shall bear compensation liabilities, and the persons directly in charge and other directly responsible persons of the entities shall be subject to sanctions in accordance with the relevant laws.

Where a suspected patient with mental health issues has committed, or is likely to commit, acts harming themselves or endangering the safety of others, their employer shall immediately take measures to stop them, and send them to an appropriate medical institution for diagnosis.

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