Concern over students' mental health

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A growing problem

Meanwhile, a number of incidents at other colleges have highlighted the problem of campus violence and the psychological problems that affect some students.

The paralyzed Zhu Ling (second right) tries to move with the help of her parents and a housemaid. Zhu was poisoned with thallium 19 years ago when she was studying at Tsinghua University in Beijing. The case has never been solved. [Photo/China Daily]

On April 16, a dispute between two students at Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics over an online game resulted in one fatally stabbing the other.

The following day, a student at Shazhou Professional Institute of Technology in Jiangsu province seriously injured a classmate with a knife. On the same day, a decaying corpse was discovered in a dormitory at Nanchang Hangkong University.

These cases have prompted psychology experts to urge that greater attention is paid to the psychological health of Chinese college students.

"Many people believe that university students live carefree lives, but actually, they are under huge pressure from society and their families. Many look optimistic, but, in fact, they are introverted. This is a common characteristic shared by many suicides," said Lin Guirui, a psychology professor at Capital Normal University and director of the Beijing College Students Psychology Education Research Center.

"The Fudan poisoning tragedy sounds like an individual case, but I think our education system is the soil that breeds such horrible crimes. The ultimate goal of education should be the cultivation of personality, ideals, an outlook on life and values, good human relationships and communication skills. Unfortunately, our education system places too much emphasis on the cultivation of skills that concentrate on the trivial and neglect the essentials," said Lin, who has been researching the psychological health of students for 20 years.

"I've studied many campus suicides and criminal cases. I've come to the conclusion that if a person doesn't have a healthy personality and outlook on life, the skills and certificates they gain are irrelevant. They may cause great harm to those around them. The education authorities and many universities are calling for student counseling to be taken more seriously, but the truth is that little has been done so far. At most universities, the psychological health of students is still being ignored," she said.

This is partly the result of uneven distribution of resources, according to Lin. For example, the education department demands that every university and college has a counseling center for students, but it's not unusual to find universities with more than 10,000 students that only employ one full-time counselor.

"What's worse is that, because of a lack of investment, teachers and the staff of school counseling centers are often poorly paid and have little chance of promotion, so it's hard to guarantee the quality of the counseling on offer," said Lin.

Zhang Jiming, a senior psychologist at the students' counseling center at Beijing Normal University, considered Huang's case to be an isolated incident.

"Fatalities arising from trivial matters usually occur among undergraduates, who are struggling to acclimatize to life without the daily care of their parents and need to learn how to share and forgive. In the postgraduate phase, cases such as this are rare," he said.

Zhang said the case is shocking, but people should be wary of jumping to the conclusion that college students' psychological problems are more serious than those of previous generations.

However, he also admitted the lack of counseling is a weak point in Chinese universities. "Psychological education is a long-term project. When students came for counseling, we discovered that more than 90 percent of them had not received psychological education.

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