China to require mental health screening as part of student health check-ups

·5-min read

China’s Ministry of Education (MOE) will include mental health screening as part of the health check-ups required for children to attend school by the end of 2022.

While the screening will try and analyse a person’s mental health in general, it will be targeted towards pinpointing whether or not a student has depression.

Analysts said the screening measure has been adopted against a backdrop of an increasing number of teenagers affected by depression.

Do you have questions about the biggest topics and trends from around the world? Get the answers with SCMP Knowledge, our new platform of curated content with explainers, FAQs, analyses and infographics brought to you by our award-winning team.

“Educating young people to prevent depression is an important task for implementing a quality education, promoting the all-round development of young people and ensuring their physical and mental health,” read the notice released to the public earlier this month.

The ministry laid out expectations across various mental health education initiatives and said it expected the guidelines to be implemented by the end of 2022.

The MOE said that various local government agencies — such as the health, education and propaganda departments — need to build a mental health framework for students.

Local officials will also need to build a system for mental health diagnosis, treatment, prevention and evaluation.

Some students coming to seek my psychological help said they every day is painful because of the mental torture caused by depression

Wan Lizhu

Most experts worldwide don’t believe depression can be prevented because it is driven by factors out of an individual’s control, such as genes and brain chemicals. But, it can be treated, and there are various methods to manage depression and other mental health diagnoses.

The MOE said students diagnosed with depression or other mental health disorders will “receive high attention” from schools.

Wan Lizhu, a counselling specialist from Shanghai Ruiling Psychological Counselling, said there are more juveniles experiencing depression compared with a few years ago, reflected by the fact that there are far more mental health facilities targeting young students.

Most of these cases are in children aged between 14 and 18 because they are under high pressure from academic studies, she said.

It is vital to keep it confidential; otherwise, the students will be badly affected at school

Wan Lizhu

“They have to prepare for the high school entrance examination or college entrance examination. Both tests are gruelling and the students are exhausted,” Wan told the South China Morning Post.

“Some students coming to seek psychological counselling said they are in pain every day because of the mental torture caused by depression,” she said.

One of her recent clients is a Grade Three student at a high school who was diagnosed with serious depression.

“In the past few years, the boy had studied very hard and achieved excellent academic results. He spent almost all his time studying,” said Wan. “But since this year, his mother said, he has lost interest in studying and other activities. He refused to talk to other people. He liked sports before, but now he doesn’t do any sports. His mother said he has no motivation to do anything, like a car that has run out of petrol.”

The expert said the boy’s mother felt helpless and didn’t understand what her son was thinking. She only blamed him for “giving himself up”.

“The government’s initiative of screening depression is helpful to identify students who are depressed given that many parents are not aware that their children could have mental disorders,” said Wan.

But she pointed out that both schools and the authorities need to protect the privacy of those students found to have depression.

“It is vital to keep it confidential; otherwise, the students will be badly affected at school,” Wan said.

Professor Rong Xinqi, founder of Psychology Counselling Workshop, in Changsha, Hunan, central China, echoed this, saying the screening results must be kept confidential.

Besides the mental health check, Rong said the current mindset prevalent in the education system needed to change.

“For a long time, students are told to study hard to be elites. This will lead to students’ disappointment and frustration for themselves once they find they can’t reach the top level,” he told the Post. “I think instead, we should also let students know it’s okay to be ordinary.”

Rong said students should balance their time between study and rest and should spend some time on sports and other activities every day.

“A good habit and a healthy lifestyle contribute to reducing the possibility of developing depression. For young students, their life should not be full of studying,” said Rong.

The ministry notice placed a lot of emphasis on the need to educate young people in preventing and treating depression.

“All high schools, colleges and universities must build psychological counselling rooms and mental health education courses. They also must hire mental health education teachers,” the notice said.

Middle schools and universities will have to build compulsory mental health plans and the schools will be required to hire mental health professionals to teach students every semester.

The MOE aims to have 80 per cent of children aware of the “core knowledge” of mental health awareness.

As for the students themselves, the ministry said they are expected to recognise their own depression and to seek professional help in a timely manner.

The training for non-psychiatric doctors will be ratcheted up to improve their ability to identify depression, the authority said.

“Early detection, early diagnosis and early treatment are golden rules for dealing with mental health diseases,” said Rong.

More from South China Morning Post:

This article China to require mental health screening as part of student health check-ups first appeared on South China Morning Post

For the latest news from the South China Morning Post download our mobile app. Copyright 2021.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting