Fairer diagnoses demanded

Updated: 2012-10-11 01:20

By Xinhua (China Daily)

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Four people who claim to have been wrongly institutionalized have sent written pleas to hospitals and courts across China, demanding fairer diagnoses of mental diseases and greater scrutiny for patients' custodians.

"We are victims of incorrect diagnoses and ulterior intentions, but we do not want to complain. Complaints amount to nothing compared with our nightmares of being shackled and closely monitored in asylums," said Wang Dan, an engineer who was institutionalized by her parents at a Beijing psychiatric hospital for three days in June.

Unhappy with the man she was dating, her parents broke into her apartment and forcibly took her to hospital with four men known for using violence to take uncooperative "patients" to the hospital.

Wang spent 72 hours shackled in a ward. After she was allowed to go home, she filed a lawsuit against her parents and the four men on charges of intrusion and illegal detention.

The court has yet to hear her case.

Wang said her parents have always tried to dominate her and never respected her wishes.

"So when I openly defied them, they thought I was insane," she said.

She is not the only person who has been wrongly institutionalized by parents over acts of defiance and other domestic disputes.

Qin Lan, a defiant daughter who was institutionalized against her will for three months by her parents in her home province of Hebei, said that she still felt unsafe even after she married.

"I feared that they might throw me into the asylum again — asylums can easily lock you up as long as they get paid," she said. "When I was there I heard an old woman say it was 'dark as hell'. She had been locked up for 10 years but I could tell she was clear-headed."

While living in the asylum, Qin said that she was monitored 24 hours a day, even when she was in the washroom.

"I was not allowed to walk around freely. For most of the day I was confined to bed," she said.

Qin was one of the four victims who pleaded for medical and judicial facilities to make fairer judgments before issuing diagnoses.

"They should also double check the identities and intentions of the alleged patients' custodians to see if the person truly has a mental illness or is simply receiving the brunt of their custodians' anger," she wrote in a letter that she had sent to more than 100 hospitals and courts as of Wednesday, which was World Mental Health Day.

Widespread abuse

While Wang and Qin both knew that their parents did not mean to harm them, Chen Guoming, a former gold-store owner, felt that his institutionalization was actually a form of blackmail.

After refusing to lend money to his wife's family, Chen was tied up by his wife, her parents and brother and thrown into an asylum in February 2011.

When his sister called police and requested his release, she was told that Chen's wife, considered his sole custodian, was the only person authorized to get him out.

Chen's confinement lasted 56 days. When he was released, he found that his wife had transferred nearly 800,000 yuan ($126,000) from his account and taken all of the jewelry in his store. His losses amounted to 6 million yuan.

Chen filed a lawsuit, but the court's ruling after the first trial was in favor of his wife.

"The court said that her acts constituted a legal method of seeking out medication for me," Chen said.

He appealed the ruling and a second trial was held on Sept 24. He is still waiting for the final ruling.

Such cases are not rare in China. Inadequate diagnoses and heavy reliance on families and custodians sometimes result in wrongful institutionalization.

In some places, institutionalization is used as a political tool, with protesters ending up in asylums for voicing their grievances.

All four wrongly institutionalized victims cited multiple abuses of laws and rights in their letters, demanding that doctors make more scientific diagnoses of the mentally ill and avoid harming innocent people.

Their letters were also sent to 108 senior psychiatrists who were recently asked by the Ministry of Health to play a leading role in psychiatric disease control and prevention.

Legislation under way

A draft law on mental health is expected to help eliminate abuses regarding compulsory mental health treatment, allowing patients and their relatives to lodge lawsuits against the government, medical institutions and individuals if they feel their rights have been infringed upon.

However, the draft law still lacks a clear and legal definition for psychopathy.

In August, the Shanghai Health Bureau asked community health services to screen patients who were suspected of being mentally ill. It included a checklist of behaviors, including "likely to stay home in isolation," triggering controversy and protests.

The draft law states that families and custodians should take suspected patients to hospitals for psychoanalysis if they are, or are about to, harm themselves or other people or disrupt public safety.

In case where severe harm is possible, public security authorities are allowed to force patients to be hospitalized and inform their custodians, the draft states.

"There's still a risk that family members, such as parents or spouses, may forcibly institutionalize a mentally healthy person by using domestic disputes as evidence," said Professor Li Xuan from the law school of the Central University of Finance and Economics.

Li said that a written agreement by a suspected patient is essential for psychoanalysis.

"The suspect should not be taken to a hospital by force if he or other family members strongly oppose psychiatric checks or treatments," Li said.

In practice, however, doctors often assume that the person who forcibly commits a suspected patient is the patient's custodian, according to Professor Liu Ruishuang from Beijing University.

"Hospitals should be responsible for checking custodians' identities to avoid harming the innocent," Liu said.

Some of the names have been changed to protect interviewees' privacy.