Health experts have called for increasing investment in mental health services in China, as a recent study has revealed that only 0.5 percent of people suffering depressive disorders received adequate treatment.
It is estimated that 9.5 percent of individuals diagnosed with different degrees of depressive symptoms used mental health services, much lower than about 57.3 percent in the United States and other high-income countries, according to a study led by Chinese researchers and published on the online version of The Lancet Psychiatry on Sept 21.
An even lower 3.6 percent of patients sought treatment from psychiatric specialists. About 7 percent visited healthcare institutions or took psychotropic drugs, 0.3 percent enlisted help from social services, and 2.7 percent turned to traditional Chinese medicine or other alternative therapies, the study said.
The findings were based on a survey conducted on the Chinese mainland from 2013 to 2015 involving more than 32,500 people aged 18 or above.
Researchers from the First Affiliated Hospital of Kunming Medical University, Peking University Sixth Hospital's Institute of Mental Health and several other institutions analyzed data from the survey and co-authored the paper.
"Our study showed that only a small percentage of people with a depressive disorder accessed treatment and very few received adequate treatment," it said.
Depressive disorders affect 6.9 percent of Chinese people over the course of their lives and 3.6 percent were affected in the previous 12 months, other studies have shown.
The new paper also offered a more detailed picture of the prevalence of mental illness in China, saying that depressive disorders were more prevalent in women than men, unemployed people than employed and people who were divorced, separated or widowed than those who were married or cohabiting.
These results have demonstrated the great challenges confronting frontline doctors and mental health service providers, Xu Xiufeng, head of the department of psychiatry at the First Affiliated Hospital of Kunming Medical University in Yunnan province and a co-author of the study, said during a forum on September 26.
"We suggested increasing financial input to expand mental health services to underserved regions and areas with high-risk populations," she said. "It is also necessary to put forward specific outreach and treatment plans for vulnerable populations."
Wang Xiangdong, a researcher at Peking University Sixth Hospital's Institute of Mental Health who was not involved in the study, said it pointed to the shortage of mental health services.
Wang Yu, former director of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said that compared to healthcare services targeting other diseases, public use of mental health services is much less common. Wang was also not involved in the study.
He has called for long-term investment to boost mental health services, launching early intervention measures and nurturing more psychiatric specialists.
Wang said depressive disorders are the leading causes of disease burdens among all mental disorders, and the most effective medical intervention is to deliver drugs to patients properly and continuously.
"More studies are needed to enhance compliance of patients," he said, adding that it is vital to guarantee there is a sufficient number of psychiatric specialists to answer the demands of patients.