National Health Commission outlines China’s key mental health tasks for 2021

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The National Health Commission along with eight other institutions issued The 2021 Notice of Key Tasks On Printing and Distributing the Pilot Scheme for the Construction of the National Social and Psychological Service System to require that in pilot areas in at least 80% of village (communities) across country, psychological counselling rooms or social work centres will be established relying on urban and rural communities. This requirement sets the goal for the final stage of a progressive pilot scheme of establishing a comprehensive national mental health services proposed in 2019.

Development in retrospect

Back in 2018, ten departments, including the National Health Commission and the Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission, issued the National Social and Psychological Service System Construction Pilot Scheme Plan, proposing to explore the social and psychological services model through pilot schemes.

The plan put forward four specific targets: consultation rooms or social work centres were required to be set up in 80% of the villages (communities); mental health courses and counselling centres (rooms) were required to set up in primary and secondary schools (equipped with full-time and part-time staff) and universities; mental health services were required to be provided to employees in party-affiliated, governmental institutions and business organisations; all psychiatric hospitals were required to set up mental health clinics, and 40% of the Grade-B general hospitals were required to set up mental health clinics; finally, institutions with professional teams had to provide social and mental health services.

In 2019, the List of Pilot Areas for the Construction of the National Social and Psychological Service System was released. The document came with a progressive plan which required consultation centres and social work centres to be established in at least 20% of the pilot communities by the end of 2019 and 50% by the end of 2020. New goals were also set for mental health services at colleges and universities, primary and secondary schools, party-affiliated and governmental institutions, businesses, psychiatric hospitals and Grade-B general hospitals.

Meanwhile, according to the plan, multiple departments in the pilot areas were required to train social workers, psychological counsellors, psychotherapists, and mental health education teachers, as well as establish a talent database for qualified personnel to provide services depending on where they were based.

Fourteen key tasks in 2021

This is the final year of the pilot scheme. Based on the overall goals of the scheme and the implementation of the tasks over the past two years, and considering the COVID-19 pandemic, 14 key tasks in three aspects have been set.

To strengthen organisational management and safeguard measures, specific tasks include convening group meetings, guaranteeing funding, conducting multi-departmental joint research and evaluation, strengthening professional and vocational training, and establishing a talent database.

Tasks improving service networks include increasing the proportion of grassroots service platforms; improving the mental health service networks for students and employees and the mental health service capabilities of medical institutions; establishing consultation rooms or social work centres in at least 80% of the villages (communities); ensuring all teacher-student ratios at colleges and universities are not less than 1:4000 in the pilot area and that schools be equipped with full-time mental health education staff and ensuring all primary and secondary schools set up counselling rooms with full-time and part-time staff, and that at least one mental health session for parents and students will be carried out every semester. All party-affiliated and governmental institutions and businesses are required to provide employees with mental health services and carry out one-to-one sessions for employees who have experienced vital life changes; all psychiatric hospitals and 40% of the Grade-B general hospitals in the pilot areas must set up mental health clinics.

To standardise the development of social and mental health services while considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, tasks include providing mental health assistance to people affected by the pandemic; continuing to construct mental health intervention teams and set up mental health assistance hotline services; improving the service mechanism for patients with severe mental disorders; and implementing special mental health projects based on people’s specific needs in each region.

In Brief

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