Spotlight on China

The Department of Psychiatry has developed close partnerships with Universities in China to provide mental health training to thousands of health professionals across China.

Working at National Level

In the early 2000s, most Chinese patients with mental disorders received custodial care in huge psychiatric institutions; there was no mental health care provided within the community. But Professor Yu Xin, the then-Director of Peking University Institute of Mental Health, saw the huge shift in the treatment of people suffering from mental illness in Victoria – and the positive effects on their recovery – and believed that moving from long-term hospital care to treatment based at community level was a way forward for China, too.

Yu Xin approached the Department of Psychiatry for help with this ambitious mental health reform program. In 2004, a pilot national reform program was approved by the Chinese government. Named the 686 Program after its initial funding of 6.86 million Chinese yuan, the program is similar to the Victorian model, which has at its core a patient-centred, community-based approach.

The Department of Psychiatry, in partnership with the University’s Asialink and St Vincent’s Mental Health, and working collaboratively with Peking University Institute of Mental Health and Chinese University of Hong Kong, provided community mental health training for thousands of health professionals and leaders across China, enabling them to provide mental healthcare through a patient-centred, community-based approach. Professor Ian Everall, the Head of the Department of Psychiatry, says the scale of China can be overwhelming. By 2015, China’s national mental health reform program involved 328 cities, 2774 districts and funding of 2.24 billion Chinese Yuan (more than $A400 million).

Professor Ian Everall pictured with PhD students studying at the University of Melbourne and Peking University Centre for Psychiatric Research and Training.

A year earlier, the Department of Psychiatry and Peking University’s Institute of Mental Health together established the joint Centre for Psychiatry Research and Training for the training of outstanding students from both institutions in collaborative activities. This Centre promotes academic research,  academic exchanges and educational collaboration between the two institutions in the area of psychiatry and mental health.

Collaboration with Chinese scientists is an extraordinary opportunity for Australian researchers, says Everall. “They have a scale that we can’t even imagine because they have such a large population,” he says. “We did a national study in Australia of people with psychosis that involved 2000 people.  In the city of Guangzhou, a colleague had a database of over 40,000 people with schizophrenia and they didn’t know what to do with it.”

In 2015, China announced that the nation’s psychiatric training needed to be standardised, with an additional 20,000 psychiatrists needing to be trained by 2020 to meet population needs. The University of Melbourne has been working with Peking University to provide active responses to these initiatives. The Department of Psychiatry has developed an online Master’s degree in Psychiatry and colleagues from Peking are considering adapting and translating the course into Chinese.

In April 2017, the Department was invited to join The Psychiatry Education Committee of the Chinese Psychiatrist Association, working to provide a system of training for psychiatrists in China. Everall supervises PhD students from China who are studying at the Centre.

Collaboration with Chinese scientists is an extraordinary opportunity for Australian researchers. They have a scale that we can’t even imagine because they have such a large population.

Everall’s own research, meanwhile, has been into how cellular, molecular and genetic changes in the brain affect mental health. One of his PhD students at Peking University, Chenxing Liu, examined the genetic profiles of Chinese, African American and European schizophrenics. He discovered that these  diverse ethnic groups share four genetic ‘pathways’, a finding that may one day deliver a more effective treatment for the condition.

Working at the city level

China’s first special economic zone, Shenzhen, has evolved from a tiny fishing village into a vast metropolis. With a population of nearly 12 million, Shenzhen’s GDP ranks fourth nationally behind Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou.

However, Shenzhen’s healthcare services are far behind those of other major cities in China. To meet the growing demand, the Shenzhen government launched the “Three Famous Project” in 2014 to encourage internationally-reputable medical schools, doctors and clinics from across China, and the globe, to  provide services in the city.

In 2016, the Department of Psychiatry became the first and only Australian funding recipient of the Shenzhen government’s “Three Famous Project”. Under the “Three Famous Project”, the Department in agreement with Shenzhen Kangning Hospital (the city’s only public mental health service provider) and  led by Everall, is providing psychiatric training and research, and clinical supervision to mental health professionals in Shenzhen.