Suicide, depression and other forms of mental illness are on the rise across East Asia. But many Asian countries lack the capacity to provide for increasing numbers of patients. And the genetic make-up of individuals in this region appears to cause them to respond differently to drugs that are widely used to treat mental illness in the West.
In this article Carina Dennis reports that the challenge for researchers is to tailor drug therapies to different human populations. Asians tend to respond to lower doses than are typically prescribed in Europe and North America. And they are more likely to develop severe side effects when taking certain treatments.
Another problem is a lack of support for diagnosis and treatment. For instance, there are thought to be only 15,000 doctors trained in mental health for the billion-plus population of China — where nearly 300,000 mostly rural people commit suicide each year. And in Laos, Dennis reports, there are just two psychiatrists.
Reference: Nature 429, 696 (2004)