The Chinese government has been taking major steps to protect the mental health of its students, an investigation has revealed.
Interviews with the Ministry of Education and a leading figure in student counselling have revealed that since 2011 all universities have been expected to start providing their students with compulsory mental health classes. The policy was introduced after more than a decade of lobbying from student support staff and ministry officials, and is aimed at helping students cope with academic pressures and to manage the transition into the working world during a period of global economic unrest.
In a story published in the China Daily earlier this year, Guirui Lin, Head of Counselling at Capital Normal University, raised concerns about the resources available to student counselling services. But a meeting in Beijing last month painted a more optimistic picture: “The majority of university students in China now have access to classes in mental health, and faculties are being trained to care for the psychological health of their students. Many students are also being trained to be peer counsellors, and every year on May 25th we hold a Mental Health Day which features a wide range of mental health education activities.”
At Guirui Lin’s institution, Capital Normal University, students are required to participate in 18 hours of mental health training per semester. Documents received by mwproject.org show that the classes cover a wide range of areas relating to student wellbeing including the Signs and Symptoms of Mental Illness, Managing Emotions, Adapting to College Life, Sexuality and Gender Issues, Dealing with Perfectionist Tendencies, Suicide Prevention, Healthy Relationships, Dealing with Setbacks, and Career Planning. Guirui Lin insisted that it was important that mental health classes be compulsory in order to reach all students and not just those with a pre-existing interest in the subject.
Wang Dinghua, China’s Director General for Basic Education, reiterated the importance that the government is placing on students’ mental health as part of reforms designed to shift emphasis away from standardised testing in schools: “We are providing funding and technical assistance to improve mental health in schools in 20 pilot areas…Within 5 years, we expect all schools to be providing mental health education.”