China makes mental health courses compulsory for undergraduates

Move puts issue on a par with other credit-bearing modules such as English and Marxist theory

August 5, 2021
Students play stress relief games in Hai’an City, Jiangsu Province, China
Source: Getty
Coping strategy: but ‘the course does not identify the roots of youth anxiety’

China is 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 were doubtful about whether the move 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 to 36 hours should be dedicated to tuition. Student advisers should also pursue master’s degrees 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 undergraduates to campuses.

Meanwhile, a 2018 study by Renmin University of China and Beijing Institute of Technology found that just 36 per cent of surveyed students were very satisfied with the mental health education that they received and that only 31 per cent of mental health teachers had degrees in psychology-related subjects.

Although many higher education institutions already provided mental health courses, action was needed to improve their quality, the researchers argued.

Wendy Li, an associate professor of psychology at Australia’s James Cook University, said improved education was “a good idea to improve mental health literacy in young people, which is likely to reduce stigma associated with mental illness”.

“But it is difficult to estimate the effectiveness of mental health education, as it largely depends on the course design and delivery methods,” she said.

Ye Liu, senior lecturer in international development at King’s College London, said she doubted 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 said.

One survey of nearly 13,000 postgraduates at the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences (UCAS), published earlier this year, found that 35.5 per cent of participants showed some signs of depression, and 60.1 per cent were experiencing anxiety. Respondents said they worked an average of 62 hours a week.

A 2018 paper that analysed the results of 32 studies estimated that 65 per cent of Chinese university students had been maltreated during childhood. Meanwhile, nine out of 10 Chinese citizens with mental illnesses do not seek professional medical help, according to surveys.

The Ministry of Education directive also calls for the creation of psychological assessment scales that “suit the characters of Chinese students”.


Print headline: Mental health now as crucial as Marx

Register to continue

Why register?

  • Registration is free and only takes a moment
  • Once registered, you can read 3 articles a month
  • Sign up for our newsletter
Please Login or Register to read this article.

Related articles