Building workforce capacity in Guangdong

August 29, 2013

Guangdong is the fastest growing and most populous province of China with a population of 104 million residents and another 16 million migrants from all over China who are drawn by employment opportunities in the vast number of multi-national and Chinese factories.

Its economy is the same size as the Netherlands. With an expanding population comes increasing unemployment, with approximately 7 million rural people now unemployed. Meeting the mental health care needs of this vast and heterogeneous population is challenging, but fortunately the Guangdong Institute of Mental Health is leading the way in building capacity in its mental health workforce.  Many local governments within Guangdong also recognise the importance of mental health care and are prepared to invest in services.

The Melbourne-Guangdong Collaboration formally commenced in 2010 to support the development of mental health services, with an emphasis on building workforce capacity.  Activities include delegation visits and regular training programs with a major focus on community mental health.

In August 2013, AAMH participated in the fourth meeting of the Collaboration, held in Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong – the city that used to be known to Westerners as Canton.  Directors from the major mental health services across the province shared their developments over the last year, and discussed future initiatives and challenges.  Many areas are introducing integrated hospital and community services, and training staff in case management.  Workforce capacity remains a major challenge; apart from the lack of trained clinicians, key areas such as occupational therapy are minimally represented.  Development of partnerships with the Disabled Peoples’ Federation, local government and rural and urban neighbourhood committees, was noted as a key enabler for specialist psychiatric services to deliver comprehensive rehabilitation programs.

Also during this visit, Melbourne clinicians, Professor Chee Ng and Dr James Leahey presented to over 300 psychiatrists at the annual Guangdong Psychiatric Conference.  Professor Ng gave an overview of global mental health development, and Dr Leahey spoke about the Australian experience in relation to Involuntary Treatment – a topic of keen interest to Chinese psychiatrists as the first Chinese Mental Health Law was introduced in May this year.

A fourth training program followed the conference, focussing on the recovery approach to mental health care, working in partnership with families, and crisis intervention and risk management.  Presenters were: Dr. James Leahy, Consultant Psychiatrist, Clinical Director, Crisis Assessment and Treatment Service, St. Vincent’s Mental Health, Christine Brown, Community Manager, Mid-West Area Mental Health Service, NorthWestern Mental Health, and Yue Li, China Program Director and Margaret Goding, Associate Director, Asia Australia Mental Health

76 experienced clinicians attended the 3 day training, including psychiatrists, psychologists, primary care doctors, psychiatric and general nurses, and 1 social worker and 1 music therapist.  Only 1/3 of participants were attending the training for the first time, and prior learning was evident.  Response to the training was overwhelmingly positive with active participation and high ratings for relevance. In the final session, work-groups presented service improvement projects which will be monitored over the next 6 months.

The warm appreciation and interest of our Guangdong colleagues overcame the damp experience of being in the middle of a typhoon. Thankfully the rain stopped just in time at the end of the training program for a very enjoyable boat trip on the Pearl River to see the spectacular lights.