One woman’s fight to improve mental health care in China

In 1985, Meng Weina set up China’s first private special needs school in the southern city of Guangzhou.

As a single mother she was motivated to help those who are often overlooked by the country’s health care system and stigmatized by society.

From her first center in Guangzhou, Weina now has Hui Ling operations in a dozen cities across China providing a range of services, from kindergartens and primary schools to youth workshops and adult residential homes.

The expansion of the donation-funded NGO shows not just the success of the Weina’s vision but the desperate need for mental health care provision in China.

“We estimate that only 10% of people with intellectual disabilities in China are receiving some kind of care or help,” said Weina.

According to a 2009 study published in British medical journal The Lancet, around 173 million Chinese suffer from a mental disorder. However there are only 20,000 psychiatrists, equaling 1.5 for each 100,000 people, or a tenth of the ratio in the United States.

Mental health legislation

Last year saw the introduction of China’s first mental health legislation, which took a reported 27 years to pass.

Among the changes from the law are new financing initiatives for mental health services and training for primary care-givers. Perhaps the most significant was a new set of rights for patients, including not being hospitalized against their will.

Negative perceptions of those with metal health problems are often portrayed in the media in China; they are either victims or perpetrators of violence.

Weina knows that each individual that comes to a Hui Ling center has their own set of needs and unique personality, and helping bring out their best encourages her to keep working.

“I wanted to do something to make my life worth while,” said Weina.

“When I see the smiles on their faces, when I see that these adults are truly happy to be at Hui Ling, that for me is the happiest moment.”

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