A bouquet of white flowers resting at the foot of a dormitory building
in the Renmin University of China carries the grief of students mourning the
precious life of one of their dear friends.
College students queue
up in the rain at a recent job fair in Dalian. Seeking a job that matches
expectations has been increasingly difficult for students and is
contributing to depression among students. [China Daily]
At noon, on May 16, a young woman committed suicide by jumping off the 11th
floor of the building. So far, university authorities have not revealed her
identity. Local media believe she was a doctorate student from the literature
school preparing her graduation thesis.
While some doctorate students have shown sympathy, the response of many
students has been stony silence. The apparent numbness could be a result of a
spate of college student suicides, which have occured this month.
One day before the tragedy at Renmin University, a female postgraduate
student of Beijing Normal University leapt to her death because of depression
and academic pressure. On May 14, a junior student in Tsinghua University and a
sophomore of China Agriculture University took their lives on their campuses,
with the suicide reasons still under investigation. More than 10 college
students this month have leapt to their deaths.
Hu Deng, director of the Psychological Counselling Center of Renmin
University of China, admits he is nervous these days because May seems to be a
dark month for suicide-seekers on the campus.
Between March and May, college students come under the biggest pressure
because they must hunt for jobs, wait for the results of the entrance
examination to postgraduate or doctorate schools. And they also must prepare
Lacking the ability to cope with this adverse situation is a common problem
and the examination-oriented education system has largely neglected students'
mental health, he says.
Hu and his colleagues have probed into several suicide cases in recent years.
They found that a big proportion of the students had a medical history of
psychological problems, such as depression.
"Rather than seeking help from us, the students with psychological problems
tend to hide it for fear of affecting the future of their studies and
employment," he said.
On the Internet, many people expressed deep sorrow about the tragedy. A
student named "Xiao Wei" writes in a blog on Sohu.com: "Another doctorate sister
has quietly left us. Her dormitory building is next to mine. I do not know
whether it was a coincidence but on the same day last year, a doctorate sister
from the journalism school chose the same way to finish her life. I had met her
in a class one day before her suicide. I feel regret for her."
"Xiao Wei" respects those who committed suicide, and says one would never
understand the pains of others. In fact, "Xiao Wei" had thought of committing
suicide, but the love for family pushed the desperate idea away.
With one child in each family, all
the hope and expectation are vested in the only child.It is really
awfully lonely and burdersome for any young man or woman to try to
meet these hopes of families and society...
Zhao Jie, a first-grade doctorate student from the same literature school,
has paid more attention to the death than most of his schoolmates.
Like others, Zhao chose to pursue a doctorate degree in the hope of changing
his previous career as a college staffer. However, he has learnt that a
doctorate degree without much experience would not secure him a promising job.
"The gap between high expectations and cruel reality would keep imposing an
invisible pressure and anxiety throughout the three-year study," he said.
Economic strain is another factor contributing to anxiety. Besides expenses
on food and accommodation, Zhao needs to pay 12,000 yuan ($1,560) of tuition fee
each year. Like Zhao, most doctorate students depend on family support, their
own savings and income from part-time jobs to pull them through the three years.
Zhao describes the everyday life of a doctorate student as "dry and dull". He
has to bury himself in books all day to complete the required number of thesises
published in national-level academic journals. Communication between students
even in the same class is scarce, he says.
Zhang Yanping is deputy director of Beijing Suicide Prevention and Research
Center, which is affiliated to Beijing Huilongguan Hospital. Zhang is unsure if
the spate of student suicides in May reflects a pattern or is just coincidental.
But she notes that one suicide could possibly influence another.
She classifies recent suicidal students into two groups. The first group,
which represents about 63 percent of suicide cases, has psychological disorders,
such as depression. For people with a history of mental illness, she suggests
psychological counselling and the necessary drug treatment.
The second group feels hopeless and is isolated at the time of suicide
because of excessive emotional stress caused by employment expectations,
examinations and their looming thesis.
For this group of students, suicide intervention is even more difficult,
Zhang's center conducted research among people who attempted suicide.
Researchers asked the students about the time intervals between suicidal ideas
and action taken. About 37 percent said they acted on their negative thoughts
less than five minutes after they occured and 60 percent of the group was less
than two hours. "Suicide is one of the most extreme ways for people to solve
their problems. In fact, they have many other options and could have talked to
people close to them, such as friends, family, and classmates," said Zhang.
Staff operating a free hotline service, opened by Zhang's center, reveal the
common problems college students encounter. The major issues include depression,
academic pressure, romantic rejection, family conflicts, economical difficulties
and frustration because of the gap between the job market and high expectations.
As a professional psychologist, Zhang has observed in recent years that
college authorities have been paying more attention to the mental health of
Some teachers are obtaining counselling certificates and professional
counselling services are also being introduced on university campuses.
Since 2000, Beijing Normal University has initiated the Capital College
Students' Psychological Health Festival on May 25 every year. Famous
psychologists were invited to give lectures on the subject last Friday in
Beijing when universities across the country took part in the festival.
However, experts point out the media has conveyed misleading information that
the campus suicide rate was significantly high.
Zhang estimates the suicide rate among college students is only six people
per 100,000, which is much lower than 23 per 100,000 among the whole population
and more than 30 per 100,000 among people between the ages of 15 and 34.
However, Zhang believes that improving the mental health among students is a
"The starting point of cultivating mental health is definitely not the
college campus, but from early childhood," she said.