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Help at hand for mental disorder

By Liu Zhihua | China Daily | Updated: 2012-06-28 09:47

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Schizophrenia remains a pressing public health issue, although some progress to combat the disease has been made, an expert commented at the launch of a long-acting injection to palliate the disorder.

Schizophrenia is thought to affect about 10 million people in China, says professor Jiang Kaida, at the Shanghai Mental Health Center, and executive director of Shanghai Mental Disorders Clinical Center.

Jiang says schizophrenia ranks third among all mental disorders in terms of disease burden (impact of a health problem measured by financial cost, mortality, morbidity, among other indicators), following depression and mental problems caused by alcohol addiction.

Ministry of Health statistics suggest mental health problems comprise 20 percent of the nation's total disease burden.

"The incidence rate of schizophrenia has dropped a little in the past 10 years, from 0.66 percent to 0.63 percent, but the situation is still very tough," Jiang says.

Schizophrenia is a long-term mental health problem, which involves a breakdown in thought, emotion and behavior.

Patients usually have faulty perception, disorganized speech and thinking, and will act inappropriately.

Since the mechanism of the disease is not clearly understood, diagnosis is usually based on observed behavior and a patient's reported experiences, rather than on solid pathological evidence.

As such, treatment generally tackles the symptoms rather than the causes.

Currently, just 35 percent of counties have public or private medical institutes that provide treatment for mental health disorders, and in rural areas the situation is even worse, says Yan Jun, director of the Mental Health Office with the Disease Prevention and Control Bureau of the Ministry of Health.

There have often been reports of families caging family members with schizophrenia like animals, because of a lack of understanding, out of fear they will harm others and because they can't afford treatment.

Those who do receive treatment often relapse.

According to a study led by four mental health hospitals in Beijing, Shanghai, Liaoning and Hebei provinces earlier this year, the relapse rate among schizophrenia patents in the first year after they are discharged from hospitals is as high as 40.8 percent, roughly the average global level.

If patients do not continue taking medication, or do not have the support of a family, the relapse rate is even higher.

"Schizophrenia is a disease that requires long-term treatment," mental disorders specialist Jiang Kaida says.

"Once the treatment stops and a relapse occurs, the patient's brain structure will be damaged further, and that damage is irreversible, making it a vicious circle."

He adds that most mainstream medications in China are not independently developed by Chinese, and are short term.

The long-acting medication launched on June 12 by Xian Janssen Pharmaceutical Ltd is allegedly the first of its kind in China, as it requires injections only once a month. It has been used in foreign countries such as the United States since 2009.

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