VR therapy holds broad appeal in many markets for a number of reasons, but China offers particularly fertile ground: an estimated 90 percent of people with mental health disorders have never sought treatment.
This result is partially linked to a shortage of trained professionals. World Health Organization data show China’s concentration of psychiatrists is four times lower than the global average, with only 2.2 per 100,000 people (the U.S. rate is 10.5). This shortage is creating a public health crisis in the nation; some psychiatrists there routinely see more than 100 patients a day, according to Xiaoduo Fan, an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and director of the university’s China Mental Health Program. When he observed caregivers at work in China, he saw no privacy and little time spent with each patient. Psychiatrists in China often cannot even spare the time to write prescriptions, relying on an assistant to do so while the doctor moves on to the next person. “I did not believe it until I saw it myself,” Fan says. “The wards are like a flea market—crowded with people.”
Another reason for low treatment rates is cultural. While similar biases exist in many countries, studies have shown people with psychiatric problems endure especially high levels of stigmatization in China. Fan notes that even when psychiatric services are available, people are often reluctant to get help for fear of embarrassment. Families of those with mental illness have been known to hide away their sick relatives for years—reportedly sometimes in cages or empty rooms—rather than seeking treatment, he notes.