Legislators, scholars and families of psychiatric patients yesterday praised draft amendments to employment regulations designed to reduce discrimination against patients employed in government-licensed professions and to ensure that, where feasible, they can continue to work.
"The public should understand that there are different kinds and degrees of mental illness. It is unfair to place restrictions on all psychiatric patients because most of them are capable of carrying on their professions once they are receiving proper medical treatment," said Chang Jiue (張玨), president of the Mental Health Association in Taiwan (中國心理衛生協會).
She made the remark at a public hearing called by Legislator Chou Ching-yu (周清玉) to solicit opinions from psychiatric patients and their families about amendments which she has drafted to revise 14 employment laws, each governing a specific profession for which practitioners require licenses issued by the government.
The professions include architecture, law, accountancy and teaching.
Under Chou's amendments, in order to protect the working rights of psychiatric patients, those who have recovered from mental illnesses would be entitled to return to the jobs they were doing before their condition was diagnosed.
Patients who are taking medication and under medical observation would be allowed to continue in their jobs as long as they have been deemed capable of doing so by a medical specialist and their employment supervisor.
"Psychiatric patients' employment rights should not be subject to discrimination because the support and acceptance of society are major factors in patients' recoveries," Chou said.
At present, patients certified by public hospitals as suffering from psychiatric conditions must be refused professional licenses or have such licenses revoked.
They are also banned from standing for public office or working as civil servants.
Representatives of professional associations at yesterday's hearing suggested minor changes to the draft amendments, but all supported the legislator's effort to establish fairer regulations to protect the employment rights of psychiatric patients.
Rejecting what she said was the media's common portrayal of psychiatric patients as "bombs that are going to explode any minute," Chen Ruei-ling (
"Society should pay proper respect to the patients because their knowledge and expertise are valuable treasures of our society," Chen said.
According to statistics from the Department of Health (DOH), of the more than 400,000 sufferers of mental illness in Taiwan, only about 69,000 suffer from major disorders.
Acknowledging the need for change, Wu Wen-cheng (吳文正), chief of the DOH's Bureau of Mental Health Affairs, said that further discussions between representatives of different professional groups would be needed to enable the government to establish rules to apply to all occupations, rather than just the 14 occupations licensed by the government.
Wu said that the department has focused its efforts on establishing rehabilitation centers within communities and on training professionals to assist psychiatric patients and their families.
"We have also worked to enhance public awareness of psychiatric disease by making October our mental health month," Wu said.