China is set to become one of the first countries to make mental health a compulsory credit-bearing module for all undergraduate students, in a sign of growing concern over the issue. But experts are doubtful about whether this initiative offers a genuine solution.
A notice from the ministry of education puts mental health on a par with other compulsory courses such as English and Marxist theory, and states that 32-36 hours per semester should be dedicated to tuition. Student advisers should also pursue Masters degree in psychology, the notice says.
Concern has been growing about the well-being of China’s students, particularly in the wake of lengthy lockdowns that have confined undergrads to campuses. Meanwhile, a 2018 study by Renmin University of China and Beijing Institute of Technology found just 36 percent of surveyed students were very satisfied with the mental health education they receive and that a mere 31 percent of mental health teachers had degrees in psychology-related subjects.
While many institutions already provide mental health courses, action is needed to improve their quality, the researchers argue. Ye Liu, senior lecturer in international development at King’s College London, says she doubts that a compulsory course could solve the challenges facing China’s youth. “The ‘compulsory course’ does not identify the roots of youth anxiety, such as academic pressure (and) toxic competitiveness. Moreover, this approach fails to take into consideration the specific demographic groups who are more likely to experience mental health issues in university,” she says.
One survey of nearly 13,000 postgraduates at the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences (UCAS), published earlier this year, found that 35.5 percent of participants showed signs of depression, and 60.1 percent were experiencing anxiety.
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