Efforts called for on students' mental health

Updated: Apr 18, 2024 China Daily Print
Share - WeChat

Systemic pressures around education leading to negative outcomes for nation's youth

A middle school student opens a letter from a volunteer in Xinyu, Jiangxi province, in April last year. More than 700 students from the city participated in the program, which invites adult volunteers to bond one-on-one with students via letters to help with their mental health. CHINA DAILY

A recent high-profile case concerning three middle school boys who allegedly killed a classmate has sparked discussions on the mental health of left-behind children in China.

A seventh-grade student surnamed Wang in Handan, Hebei province, was killed on March 10, and the suspects were taken into custody the next day, according to an official statement.

It is alleged that the suspects, who went to the same school and are all under 14 years old, had bullied the victim for a long time. Media reports said they are children of migrant workers.

Zong Chunshan, director of the Beijing Youth Legal and Psychological Counseling Service Center, said left-behind children lack proper family education during critical stages of their development, which may result in psychological issues and behavioral deviations.

They are prone to negative emotions such as anxiety and depression, Zong told China National Radio.

He said the academic performance of left-behind children does not reflect their psychological health, adding schools should provide emotional care and educational guidance to these children to establish effective communication channels.

On March 18, the National Advisory Committee for Students' Mental Health advocated the promotion of greater awareness concerning the physical and mental health of children and adolescents.

The foundation of students' mental health lies in the family, with a focus on the school and support from society, the committee said in a notice released by the Ministry of Education.

Teachers guide students in using virtual reality headsets during a training session at a center dedicated to students' mental health in Jiaxing, Zhejiang province, in May. CHINA DAILY

It proposed fostering a warm and loving family atmosphere, making the home a safe harbor for children's healthy growth. Parents are encouraged to overcome excessive peer comparison and expectations, discard aggressive methods and reduce their control over their children.

It also suggested making the school a joyful playground for students' positive development and establishing a coordinated service network to ensure that all of society cares for and supports students' healthy growth.

The committee was established in November to boost the country's ability to tackle students' mental health through consultation and assistance in decision-making.

Resources from various fields, including education, health and nonprofit organizations, should be integrated to boost the development of adolescents' mental health, said Qiao Zhihong, secretary-general of the committee.

Led by the Ministry of Education, it is responsible for the research, consultation, monitoring, evaluation and scientific popularization of mental health work in universities, middle schools and primary schools.

The mental health issues of students, particularly among younger age groups, are growing prominently due to increasing pressures related to academic performance, employment and other factors, according to the 2023 Annual Blue Book on Mental Health in China.

A rural children's mental health survey conducted in 2021 by professor Chen Zhiyan and her team from the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Institute of Psychology, showed that the detection rate of depression among children was only 25.2 percent.

According to data from the National Depression Blue Book (2022-23), 30 percent of the 6,670 surveyed depression patients were under 18, with half of them being students.

Moreover, 41 percent of depressed students have had to take a break from schooling due to the chronic and debilitating nature of mental illnesses, the blue book said.

Students play a game in a sandbox at a school-based mental health room in Huzhou, Zhejiang, in October. YI FAN/FOR CHINA DAILY

However, some parents still have a limited understanding of depression and have strong feelings of shame. Others may only focus on their children's behavioral manifestations without considering the underlying emotional and psychological factors.

They may simplify the issue as a lack of interest in studying, adolescent rebellion or weak willpower.

Xu Ling, a political adviser and the vice-president of Guangdong Polytechnic Normal University, said she has found that collaboration among families, schools and society in tackling mental health issues of adolescents has failed to form a unified force.

Xu said schools prioritize exam-oriented education and talent cultivation over extracurricular activities. Insufficient physical activities and labor education have led students to easily fall into the trap of "self-isolation, loneliness, anxiety and depression".

"Moreover, there is a shortage of dedicated psychological counselors in schools, and teachers are not capable of identifying students' emotional crises, let alone effectively intervene," Xu said.

Many parents have excessive requirements for their children's academic achievements, with a focus on quick success, leading to conflicts between parents and children that have even escalated into suicidal incidents, she added.

"Society has yet to form a strong force to effectively support the healthy growth of adolescents," Xu said.

Because of the lack of professional personnel and resources, mental health services provided by grassroots institutions need to be improved urgently, she said. Cultural products such as online games, movies and animations that are filled with violence and vulgarity may also contribute to criminal behavior or self-harm, she added.

Political adviser Ding Zuohong said the side effects of the internet are some of the factors that lead to teenagers' psychological problems.

"As of June last year, the number of internet users under 18 had reached 191 million. Adolescents get access to harmful information through the internet. Online harassment and cyberbullying have also contributed to depression," he said.

A student tries a virtual reality spinning session that helps relieve users of negative emotions at a mental health center in Jiaxing, Zhejiang, in May. CHINA DAILY

Ding, who is also a member of the Standing Committee of the All-China Federation of Industry and Commerce, said the threshold for the psychological counseling industry in China is relatively low, and many child psychologists lack professional qualifications.

Some commercial psychological counseling institutions provide services that may not only be ineffective, but could also exacerbate adolescents' psychological issues, he said.

The diagnoses of children's depression may be inappropriately expanded to psychological diseases because of limited time for treatment or unprofessional methods, he added.

Ding proposed strengthening frustration education in schools, teaching young students how to effectively manage negative emotions.

"We could train children's psychological resilience to frustration from kindergarten, while adjustments could be made in family education," he said.

It's essential to engage children in outdoor activities and sports to prevent internet addiction. "In addition, we should guard against the abuse of sleep aids and related drugs," he added.

Political advisers in the education sector made multiple proposals to address the concerns over students' mental health issues during the group meeting of the recently concluded two sessions, Xinhua News Agency reported.

A mental health doctor gives a lecture to primary school students in Donglin town of Huzhou, Zhejiang province, in November. XU YU/XINHUA

Liu Aiping, Party secretary of the China International Youth Exchange Center, said at the meeting that the emphasis that "it is a life failure if you don't get into a prestigious university" should be rectified to alleviate the anxiety of students, parents and teachers.

Ma Jinglin, principal of Beijing No 4 High School, suggested building a management system involving the family, school and hospitals to ensure smoother communication concerning students' mental health.

Gao Jinfeng, the principal of an education group in Taizhou, Jiangsu province, said the education ministry could initiate with other departments the building of an individual mental health archive for every student in the country.

Authorities responded to those concerns during the meeting. The education ministry has listed 20 major tasks regarding the issue, including establishing a platform to monitor students' mental health.

The Cyberspace Administration of China said more effort will be focused on online guidance for teenagers' mental health. The National Health Commission will continue training professional psychologists and strengthening the popularization of mental health knowledge, it said.

Copyright©2024 China Daily. All rights reserved.


京公网安备 11010502032503号 京公网安备 11010502032503号