Schizophrenia takes fatal turn in China

Suicides among people with schizophrenia are a major public-health concern in China, according to a new report. One-tenth of all Chinese people who kill themselves suffer from this severe mental disorder, say psychiatrist Michael R. Phillips of Beijing Hui Long Guan Hospital and his coworkers. In most other countries with suicide statistics, schizophrenia accounts for a smaller proportion of the deaths.

China is the only nation studied in which a larger proportion of women than men develops schizophrenia and commits suicide, the researchers report in the Sept. 18 Lancet. People with schizophrenia in China’s rural villages kill themselves far more frequently than do those in the cities, the team notes.

Schizophrenia-related suicides in China often involve married women with no previous psychiatric treatment. In Western countries, it’s more common for men with schizophrenia to kill themselves shortly after being admitted to a psychiatric hospital.

About 1 in 250 Chinese citizens develops schizophrenia, compared with approximately 1 in 100 U.S. residents, the investigators say.

The team’s portrayal of schizophrenia and suicide in China derives from analyses of a 1993 national psychiatric survey, a national review of suicides recorded between 1995 and 2000 that included psychiatric interviews of surviving families and friends, and government data on mortality trends.

Bruce Bower has written about the behavioral sciences for Science News since 1984. He writes about psychology, anthropology, archaeology and mental health issues.