Ninety-five percent of schools and universities in China are to have psychology teachers by 2025, as the country takes more steps to safeguard the mental well-being of students, according to a new guideline.
Universities are required to have at least two full-time psychology teachers and primary and secondary schools are required to have at least one full-time or part-time teachers on mental health, said the guideline.
The guideline, jointly issued on Thursday by the Ministry of Education and 16 other departments, said mental health should be given more attention, and mental health education should be included at all levels of schooling, with concerted efforts made by schools, families and society as a whole.
The guideline came as high-profile tragedies involving students with severe mental health problems led to growing calls for the strengthening of the psychological health education of students.
In February, the disappearance of 15-year-old high school student Hu Xinyu in Shangrao, Jiangxi province, sparked huge discussion online. Hu was later found to have hanged himself and local police said that he had mental problems due to bad grades, interpersonal relationship issues and stress from puberty.
According to a report based on a survey of almost 80,000 students aged 15 to 26 released in March by the Institute of Psychology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, 21.48 percent of the respondents suffered from depression and 45.28 percent of the respondents said they had to cope with anxiety.
Concerted efforts are required to help students form good psychological qualities such as an appreciation for life, self-esteem, self-confidence, optimism and tenacity, the guideline said.
Primary and secondary schools are encouraged to incorporate psychology courses into their curriculum, while universities are required to have compulsory courses on psychological health.
County-level education authorities need to conduct psychological evaluations at least once a year of students in the senior grades of primary school, middle and high school students and secondary vocational school students, and establish mental health records for all students.
Universities should also conduct mental health evaluations of all new students, and the frequency of the evaluations can also be increased when required, while also ensuring the information remains confidential.
Special attention should be paid to students facing too much academic pressure, as well as pressure in finding employment, financial difficulties, personal relationship issues, family crises and bullying, the guideline said.
Education authorities need to work with health, cyberspace affairs and public security authorities to identify students with serious mental health problems as early as possible, prevent incidents of self-harming or harming others through online and offline warning mechanisms, and help the students seek early treatment.
The guideline also said effective measures should be taken to reduce the homework and tutoring burdens faced by primary and middle school students, and ensure students can have two hours of physical exercise every day.
The whole of society has reached a consensus to strengthen the mental health education of students, said an official from the ministry's department of physical, health and art education.
According to a separate news release from the ministry, growing numbers of young people in China are developing mental health problems.
To ensure the guideline is effectively implemented, students' mental health will be taken into account when evaluating the work of provincial governments and administrators of all levels of schools, the official said.
Wang Wenda, a psychology lecturer at Ningxia University's Xinhua College in Yinchuan, Ningxia Hui autonomous region, said the COVID-19 epidemic has had a profound impact on students' mental health, as they lacked face-to-face interaction.
"Moreover, in the past three years, they lived in an uncertain environment, and it was easy for them to develop problems such as depression or anger," he said.
The number of students with mental illnesses has increased in recent years, which is partly due to the growing prevalence of psychological screening at universities, he said.
However, the number of psychology teachers remains inadequate, and they are still not treated with the same degree of importance as teachers of academic subjects, Wang said.
The guideline has stressed giving psychology teachers more opportunities for promotion, which will help to increase the attractiveness of the profession, he said.
He said he was also glad to see that more attention will be given to training professionals in psychology-related majors, as there is still great shortage of such teachers in schools, as well as psychiatrists and counselors at hospitals.