Chinese postgraduates complain of anxiety and long hours

Expert warns pandemic could exacerbate stresses on PhD mental health

May 4, 2021
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Signs of anxiety and depression are common among postgraduates at Chinese universities, and a psychologist has said the pandemic could be making things worse.

A survey of nearly 13,000 postgraduates at the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences (UCAS) found that 35.5 per cent of participants showed some signs of depression, and 60.1 per cent were experiencing anxiety issues.

The results also indicated that 12.4 per cent of surveyed students were considered to be at “high risk” of depression and 18.4 per cent showed “moderate or severe” symptoms of anxiety.

Final-year students, those who studied for more than 10 hours a day on average, and those with a difficult relationship with their supervisor were at highest risk.

The students surveyed worked an average of 62 hours a week, with more than one in three (36.5 per cent) typically putting in more than 10 hours a day.

Chen Zhiyan, a professor in UCAS’ Institute of Psychology and the leader of the project, told local media that better communication and support were needed for postgraduates, especially PhD students, because “the mental health centre in many institutions provides services mainly for undergraduate students”.

Ma Qianguang, a deputy professor in the East China University of Political Science and Law’s mental health education and consulting centre, told Times Higher Education that postgraduate students were “under great pressure, not just in China”, and the issue required “serious attention”.

“This group faces stresses from studying and research and so on, hence it’s natural for them to feel anxious and have other emotional reactions,” Dr Ma said.

Dr Ma highlighted that the UCAS study used scales to assess symptoms of anxiety and depression, which was significantly different from a diagnostic assessment.

The UCAS survey was conducted before the coronavirus pandemic, and Dr Ma said Covid-19 had had “obvious” impact on mental health, including among postgraduates.

“The way of teaching and learning has changed during the pandemic, and the job market will be affected as well,” he said. “All these could exacerbate students’ reaction and degree of anxiety, worry and pessimism.”

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