Document released by the National Health Commission displays new attention to mental health

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The Work Plan on the Exploration of Special Services for the Prevention and Treatment of Depression, recently published by the Chinese National Health Commission, gives encouraging signs of a new focus on the public’s mental health. The document calls for the establishment of mental health service centres in pilot cities and communities that can make their services available to the residents. In addition, the plan makes recommendations such as making mental health education a compulsory module for high schools and universities and setting up at least one 24-hour mental support hotline in each city.

The Work Plan lists four groups of people that ought to be given extra attention when providing mental health support: teenagers and young adults, pregnant women and new mothers, elderly people and people in high-pressure jobs. It advises that both high schools and universities should have mental health consultation centres with qualified psychiatrists. Mental health education should also be included as a compulsory module in the school and university curriculum. The module will be taught by mental health experts, guiding students to learn about depression, and in particular recognise that seeking help from professional psychiatrists is necessary if they feel the need for mental health assistance.

The Work Plan also acknowledges the importance of preventing depression in pregnant women and new mothers. It recommends pregnancy depression and postpartum depression (PPD) tests to be included in the regular pregnancy tests and postpartum care, with qualified medical staff or social workers to help women in need. Psychiatric hospitals, clinics and maternal and child health hospitals should form partnerships and conduct joint clinical or virtual meetings to offer professional services to women before and after giving birth.

The elderly are another group whose mental health deserves more attention. Psychiatric medical institutions are recommended to provide mental health trainings for grassroots clinics and provide annual mental health tests for elderly people, besides their other regular services. Once elderly people with mental health problems are diagnosed, they will be offered counselling or recommended to received treatment in psychiatric hospitals.

The last focus group is people with high-pressure jobs. The Work Plan stresses that companies and organisations should consider the importance of employees’ mental health as an essential part of organisational culture. Companies and organisations should create working environments that are supportive of their employees’ mental health, and hire professional or part-time psychiatrists who are able to provide counselling and mental health educational training and conduct mental health assessments, consultations and other related services to employees. Companies and organisations should always make mental health services available for employees who have high-pressure positions or whose jobs require them to bear a high pressure for a period of time.

In terms of mental health hotlines, the Work Plan states that based on the existing services provided by mental health medical institutions, the 12320 public health hotline and other mental health service centres, each city must set up at least one mental health support hotline and make it available 24 hours a day. Appropriate trainings and assessments will be set up for hotline operators, and the Work Plan suggests that each operator should receive training at least twice a year and have monthly assessments regarding their services. Moreover, the plan calls for the promotion of public mental health services through media and social media platforms to increase their impact on the public, especially people who are in need of support.

The Work Plan also proposes the establishment of professional teams to tackle public mental health problems. These teams must contain psychiatrists, psychotherapists, psychologists and social workers who specialise in psychology and psychiatry. The teams will have a minimum two-day training and clinical drills every year. In addition to general public mental health issues, the teams will equally be prepared to provide mental health services to citizens during severe pandemics, natural disasters and accidents.