Mentally ill to receive new status

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Mentally ill to receive new status

The Ministry of Health and Welfare yesterday announced it will recategorize mental patients using narrower terms in an effort to minimize the possible social disadvantages for those previously branded with mental illness.

The ministry said in a preannouncement yesterday that it will reduce the determination of serious mental illness to only those who are greatly hindered in carrying out their daily activities and thus are required to register with mental hospitals and stay overnight.

Until now, the definition comprehensively includes those with varying levels of mental-related illness, such as personality disorders or alcohol or drug addiction.

The Health Ministry stated those whose mental illnesses are serious enough to check into mental hospitals will be declared mental patients, and the designation will go on their official records.

Those who receive mental treatment as outpatients will not be declared as serious mental patients under the revision, the ministry said.

With the change in definition, the number of those determined to suffer serious mental illness is expected to plunge by 75 percent to the 1 million mark from the current 4 million.

The ministry also said it will ban insurance companies from applying for discriminatory insurance premiums or from denying coverage to those who have a history of mental illness.

“In order to remove social prejudice and discrimination against those with mental illness, we are pushing for a revision in the law to construct a more concrete groundwork for a strengthened mental health policy,” said Lim Jong-kyu, director of the health policy bureau at the Health Ministry.

The ministry is also raising the bar for requirements to allow family members to send their families to mental hospitals.

Under the revision plan, those who are mentally ill and are deemed a potential danger to oneself or others could be forced to enter a mental hospital. Until now, families could send other family members to such hospitals only if one of the two conditions was met.

“Mental patients at hospitals will first have mental evaluations to determine if she or he can be discharged by a panel of doctors and lawyers in two months after they are involuntarily admitted to a hospital,” reported the ministry.

Currently, patients have the evaluation six months after they check into a mental hospital.

The ministry added it will mandate at least three members of an evaluation panel to come from outside medical or legal circles, such as human rights experts or those who have recovered from their own mental illness.

As of 2011, there are 10,273 mental care institutions in the country, where a total of 77,223 mental patients are registered, according to the Health Ministry. Of the total patients, 23.7 percent, or 15,931, voluntarily checked into such institutions while 69.4 percent, or 46,624, were involuntarily registered by the consent of family members.


By Kang Jin-kyu [jkkang2@joongang.co.kr]

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