A system to provide better treatment for people who suffer mental health problems is being established by the Ministry of Health.
The cornerstone of the system is an information network to replace and upgrade figures that are almost certainly obsolete. So far it has helped nearly 3 million patients.
"The system is still being set up and we are working hard to improve it," Yan Jun, who heads the mental health division at the ministry's Disease Prevention and Control Bureau, told China Daily in an exclusive interview.
About 100 million people on the mainland suffer various forms of mental illness. Of these, 16 million are categorized as serious.
However, these figures are based on the most recent epidemiology survey, focusing on distribution and pattern, conducted in 1993.
It will probably be higher today, said US-trained psychiatrist Zhang Mingyuan, vice-chairman of the China Disabled Persons' Federation.
Roughly half of the urban patients who need hospitalization are unable to afford it and the situation in the countryside is even worse, he said, citing national research.
Less than 10 percent of patients categorized as serious were registered with the health authorities to receive treatment by the end of 2010.
Zhang urged the government to further improve mental healthcare given "that it also helps with social stability and public security".
"Left untreated, some might pose a danger," he warned.
Statistics from a mental health institution in Beijing showed that more than 80 percent of the approximately 1,500 suspects who were accused of criminal activity between 1984 and 1996 suffered from severe mental illness.
"Once fully established, it can help health authorities better track serious patients and ensure more are cared for," Yan noted.
A regular information exchange and sharing mechanism will be set up with police departments at provincial and city level but that only covers patients deemed to pose a high risk to public security.
The information shared will be immediately relevant, said Ma Hong, deputy director of the National Center of Mental Health under the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
The mechanism is in line with international conventions, she explained.
Six types of serious mental illness, including schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, are required to be reported under the system, according to Yan.
"The system will also help facilitate medical records for patients moving between different places and will provide a valuable guide to the government's resource placement," Ma said.
The system includes basic personal information, treatment and follow-up services, she said.
Mental health institutions and grassroots healthcare centers are responsible for collecting and uploading the information into the system.
According to Ma, the government has allocated 4 million yuan ($628,000) this year to train more qualified professionals in mental healthcare.
Official statistics showed China now has only 20,000 mental health doctors, which hardly meets rising demand.
Mental healthcare services need to be improved, Ma said.
The ministry planned to establish a treatment and care network for serious mental disease that will cover at least 95 percent of counties and cities by 2015.
"Mental health is an obvious public health and social problem in China as more people are suffering from disorders like melancholy and anxiety," said a draft guideline on the country's mental health services for 2012-15, released in June.
In addition, it said it would equip 90 percent of community level clinics with mental health specialists by 2015.