Sat, Feb 14, 2009 - Page 2 News List

Agency plans to upgrade mental health assistance

By Shelley Huang  /  STAFF REPORTER

The Department of Health (DOH) yesterday announced plans to set up a bureau dedicated to the improvement of mental health services and prevention of drug abuse.

The department's announcement came in the wake of a petition by dozens of civic groups and non-governmental organizations to address these two problems made worse by the economic downturn.

The groups, led by representatives from the John Tung Foundation, met DOH Minister Yeh Ching-chuan (葉金川) yesterday for talks on providing mental health assistance, especially to those affected by the rising unemployment, forced leave, pay cuts and other financial troubles.

The Teacher Chang Foundation, which provides counseling and psychological assessment services to troubled youth, said it received about 20 percent to 30 percent more phone calls during this year's Lunar New Year holiday from people who have lost their work or were having difficulty find a job.

“Studies conducted in other countries show that for every 1 percent increase in unemployment, the suicide rate increases by 4 to 5 percent,” said Chang Te-chung (張德聰), chairman of the Teacher Chang Foundation.

Chang said that because of cultural factors such as having stronger family ties, a 1 percent increase in unemployment in Taiwan results in a 2 percent to 3 percent increase in the suicide rate.

“Cases of domestic violence, school drop-outs and drug abuse would also increase,” he said.

“One private university said that after the holiday, the student body lost about six classes [about 240 students],” he said. “Many students dropped out because they could not afford the tuition.”

“Many people have fallen into depression because of financial troubles ... Although the government has provided material assistance, we have yet to see the government focus on mental problems,” said Milton Shieh (謝孟雄), chairman of the John Tung Foundation.

In response, Yeh unveiled the department's ongoing plans to establish a bureau dedicated to improving the nation's mental health.

About 18 people from the Bureau of Medical Affairs, the Bureau of Health Promotion, DOH hospitals, the Bureau of Controlled Drugs, the Centers for Disease Control and the Bureau of National Health Insurance will form the new bureau, which has yet to be officially named, he said.

The DOH will ask the Executive Yuan for a special budget of NT$150 million (US$5 million) that will be mainly used in hiring more social workers and psychiatrists, enhancing local healthcare centers, increasing the number of mental health institutions and improving suicide prevention assistance, Yeh said.

The head of the bureau will be Happy Tan (陳快樂), currently superintendent of Taoyuan Mental Hospital.

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