Mental health awareness in Chinese schools
Mental health problem is a global issue. The WHO estimates that around 10 to 20% of children worldwide suffer from mental health problems. In China, mental health problems among students are rising at an alarming rate.
In this article by Pacific Prime China, we’ll identify the most common mental health problems among Chinese students, explore their unique causes, and go through steps that Chinese schools around the country can take to raise awareness for mental health issues.
Mental health problems among Chinese students
Currently, it is estimated that around 30 million Chinese students aged between 7 and 18 have experienced mental health problems, such as depression and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
This poses a public health threat for the entire country, as mental health problems among children and adolescents can lead to future problems in life relating to work, family, and individual safety.
For instance, between 10 to 20% of children with ADHD are at risk of developing severe symptoms later on, such as underdeveloped speech, defiance, and anxiety, according to China’s National Health Commission.
The causes of mental health problems among Chinese students
Chinese students often face a completely different set of stressors in their daily life when compared to their western counterparts. These stressors often have cultural and societal roots, leading to widespread mental health problems in Chinese students all over the country.
For instance, studies across China have picked up increases in suicide attempts among children and adolescents aged 9 to 18. One study even found that 2.7% of adolescents in China had attempted suicide at least once. With that said, these are the 3 most influential factors causing mental health problems among Chinese students:
1. Parental expectations
Chinese parents are known to be pragmatic. They are results-driven individuals, focused on achieving tangible goals for their children. While this can be a beneficial style of parenting, it often leaves the mental wellbeing of children out of the picture.
As a result, many Chinese parents care more about school performance and grades than the mental wellbeing of their children. This puts an unhealthy level of pressure on Chinese children to perform well in school, leading to clinical mental health problems, such as acute stress, depression, and anxiety.
Meet Yu Shen, a 15-year-old Chinese student living in a town near Shanghai. Yu Shen’s parents work in a factory outside the city, and while their earnings are much higher than other factory workers, they hope their daughter would excel in school to live a wealthier life in the future. To meet her parents’ expectations, Yu Shen goes to after-school classes from 6 pm to 10 pm almost every day of the week and attends Saturday school to study for her exams.
Yu Shen isn’t the only Chinese student trying to fulfill their parents’ expectations. Millions across China are going through a similar hurdle, and for many, it’s taken a toll on their mental health.
2. One-child policy
The one-child policy was implemented from 1980 to 2016, allowing each family to only have one child. Although the measure was relaxed in its later years, the one-child policy was strictly enforced well into the 1990s and early-2000s.
While the policy did solve China’s problem of over-population, it led to a myriad of social issues associated with the mental health of Chinese children. Traditionally Chinese families tend to favor sons, as many aspects of China’s society are still very much male-dominated. This means that when mothers gave birth to a daughter, there was an immediate sense of resentment within the family as they weren’t allowed to procreate in hopes of giving birth to a son.
This led to widespread problems of parental neglect and even abuse among families with a single daughter. Studies on the first 2 generations of those born into the one-child policy era found that girls, in particular, faced high risks of experiencing depression, moodiness, and temper problems.
3. Left-behind children
China’s rapid urbanization in the past few decades has led to a socio-economic phenomenon known as ‘China’s left-behind children’. This refers to millions of cases where parents in rural areas leave their children behind with their grandparents to move to bigger cities for better job opportunities. In fact, there are currently 61 million left-behind children in China, growing up without one or both of their parents.
This is a key underpinning factor that contributes to the rise of mental health problems in China. Results of the majority of studies show that left-behind children are far more prone to feelings of loneliness, fear, and self-blame, as well as clinical problems like depression and anxiety.
How schools can help students with mental health problems
With mental health problems in Chinese students on the rise, schools are faced with a timely opportunity to act as the first line of defense and raise awareness on mental health issues. In this section, we’ll explore what Chinese schools are doing right and what they’re doing wrong to combat mental health issues among their pupils.
What they’re doing right
Mental Health Law 2013
Chinese schools have come a long way in the past decade when it comes to addressing mental health problems on their campuses. The Mental Health Law was enacted in 2013, requiring all schools to be equipped with psychologists and counseling teachers for mental disorders and other psychological problems. While the law hasn’t been enforced as strictly as it could be, it’s the right step forward to addressing mental health issues in Chinese schools.
Mental Health Initiative 2019
Last year, the Chinese Ministry of Education announced an initiative requiring all schools to set up a psychological service platform or rely on school doctors to provide students with mental health services. Furthermore, the plan aims to form a network that incorporates families, schools, the media, medical institutions, and communities to foster a social environment conducive to protecting the mental health of children.
What they’re doing wrong
While the latest mental health laws and regulations are heading in the right direction, they are more geared towards providing services to students that are suffering from mental health issues instead of directly raising awareness and preventing mental health issues from arising in the first place.
To do so, teachers will have to actively and openly talk about mental health issues in the classroom. Mental health issues need to be taught to students in a systematized way that involves the students’ families.
Today, mental illness is still a highly stigmatized subject in many parts of China, especially in areas outside big cities like Shanghai and Beijing. Schools have an important role to play in shifting attitudes and making mental health problems an integral part of health and wellness classes.
Chinese teachers’ mental health
Students are not the only ones suffering from mental health issues in schools. Teachers in China are also regularly experiencing work burnouts and severe stress. Work burnouts can make teachers ineffective in performing their daily administrative tasks, negligent towards their students, and underperform in teaching their classes. This is why schools in China need to implement the right employee benefits plan that prevents and alleviates work burnouts among their teachers.
Getting the right employee benefits for your teachers
Employee benefit plans come in various forms. Some focus only on providing health benefits to teachers, while others provide a more holistic wellness program that also targets issues like work burnouts and workplace stress.
To make sure you’re getting the most cost-effective program, it’s best to consult an employee benefits expert like Pacific Prime. We work with global health insurance companies in China to consult and administer expat group health insurance in China. If you’d like to know more about employee benefits and health insurance in China, feel free to contact our team for a free consultation today!
In his free time, Phuwit enjoys reading and playing badminton. He also loves a good cup of coffee.
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