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Over 1,700 patients stayed over 50 yrs at mental wards nationwide: Mainichi survey

In this undated photo, patients walk through the corridor of a mental hospital in the prefectural capital of Kagoshima, in southern Japan. (Mainichi)

At least 1,773 people remained at hospital mental wards for 50 years or more as of the end of June 2017, despite a Ministry of Heath, Labor and Welfare policy to reduce numbers by moving them to community care, a Mainichi Shimbun survey has found.

The poll covered patients who were admitted before June 1967 at 1,588 hospitals, or 97.7 percent of medical institutions with beds for patients with mental illnesses. The data is based on information annually submitted by Japan's 47 prefectural governments and the municipal government of the 20 specially designated cities with populations over 500,000 to the National Center for Neurology and Psychiatry in the western Tokyo suburban city of Kodaira.

Among the patients, their reason for admission was available for 1,291 people. Of them, 811 stayed of their own will, while 476 patients were admitted based on the judgment of an expert doctor and the consent of family members, but without the consent of patients themselves. Four patients were admitted due to legal orders from prefectural governors and others out of concern that the patients could possibly cause harm to others or themselves.

Of 1,246 people who had clear diagnosis of their conditions, about 80 percent had schizophrenia.

The actual number of patients staying at hospitals for half a century or more may in fact be larger. Kanagawa Prefecture, just south of Tokyo, did not release the years and dates of admission for inpatients with mental illnesses. Only the figures for the designated cities of Yokohama, Kawasaki and Sagamihara were available in the prefecture.

Meanwhile, in Nagasaki Prefecture in southern Japan, there was record of a patient who was admitted to a hospital on Nov. 28, 1923 -- more than 80 years ago.

(Japanese original by Tetsuro Hatakeyama, Osaka Science & Environment News Department and Masakatsu Yamasaki, Osaka City News Department)

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