China passes first mental health law

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China recently passed its first national law protecting the civil rights of its estimated 100 million people with mental illnesses.

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The law, approved October 19, requires mental institutions to protect their patients private health records, according to an article in Wall Street Journal. It also requires hospitals to provide counseling services and set up outpatient clinics.

The law also provides patients in mental institutions a right of independent review and nationwide procedures will be implemented regarding involuntary treatment.

China has long been criticized for neglecting its population of people with mental illnesses. Psychiatric services were banned during the regime of Mao Zedong and even today, cultural attitudes still foster the stigmatization of people with mental illnesses, who are often viewed with a mark of shame or as unwilling to work hard.

China has also been internationally condemned for its practice of using mental institutions as jails for political dissidents, such as members of the Falun Gong.