Chinese Family Locks Son in Cage for his own Safety

Responding to reports of someone in China's Xianyang province, authorities were astonished to discover a 26-year-old man, identified only as "Zhang", locked into a cage outside his family home.   4014294840513940696[1] The narrow, metal cage had been constructed by his father, 60-year-old Zhang Zhide, one year previously to keep him safe due to his bizarre behaviour.

According to Zhang Zhide, his son was a timid child who had been mocked by his classmates after failing the fourth grade.  He avoided going to school and became increasingly antisocial, including stealing things and "causing trouble."   He also often begged fellow villagers for money.    Fearing that Zhang was developing problems with mental illness, his parents took him to a doctor who diagnosed him as schizophrenic.  

Despite numerous different treatments for Zhang, including acupuncture and other alternative medical remedies, there was no improvement.   The expense of his treatment left the family essentially bankrupt.     While authorities have offered to help, Zhang is refusing any further treatment due to a fear of needles and hospitals. 

Zhang's father built the cage since his son kept running away from home and begging for money.  He also bought a lighter and almost burned down the family home.  Zhang Zhide told media that caging his son is hard but he could find no alternative.  "I hope someone can help me find a way to cure [my]h son and then let him learn a craft, so when I'm gone he can live."

While China has an estimated 100 million people with some form of mental illness, finding treatment can be next to impossible, especially outside the big cities.  The stigma surrounding mental illness remains extremely strong, particularly in rural regions where families prefer to keep mentally ill relatives hidden from sight.   Also, China has faced intensive international criticism surrounding the use of psychiatric hospitals to deal with political prisoners which has added to the sense of discomfort many Chinese have about seeking help.  

Still, China's changing economy and increasing exposure to Western culture has led to a rising demand for mental health services though there are still far too few psychiatrists or other mental health professionals to meet the demand for treatment.   At present, there are only an estimated 17,000 psychiatrists in all of China, about a tenth of the number found in many other countries and mental health treatment is often left up to general practitioners dispensing antidepressant and antipsychotic medication with little oversight.

The desperation of families dealing with mental illness has led to extreme remedies such as Zhang Zhide's cage for his son as well as turning to folk healers promising miracle cures.   One gruesome homicide case in 2009 involved a 76-year-old man being killed so that his head could be boiled and used as a soup to cure the mental illness of a 25-year old woman.   The woman's parents were charged with murder as a result.



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