2020-10-15 11:24:19

A student’s suicide note underscoring his academic struggles is being widely shared on Chinese social media, once again prompting discussion on the mental well-being of young people in the high-pressure field of academia.

The master’s student at Dalian University of Technology in the northeastern Liaoning province shared his frustrations on microblogging platform Weibo early Tuesday morning, suggesting he would be ending his life. He said he was “hopeless” about his research, and that he had been getting scant support from his tutor.

“In our online research group meeting, the tutor looked at my research data and calmly said it was all meaningless,” wrote the student, who had been studying chemical engineering. “OK, it’s my fault. I’m too stupid. … Fine, I have to restart everything I’ve done in the past year all over again.”

The university, one of China’s elite academic institutions, said the man’s body was found in the school’s laboratory, and police have ruled out homicide. An investigation into his death is underway.

Online, many are sharing their own experiences with China’s rigorous academic system, which often pushes students to succeed by stretching their physical and mental limits. According to recent research on mental health involving 12,117 students from over 40 Chinese universities, study-related pressure was the most common contributor to negative emotions. Over 60% of the participants said they were stressed-out by their studies, with master’s and doctoral students being the most severely affected.

“This is not an isolated case. This is the status quo for most graduate students in the country,” one Weibo user commented under the note. “Colleges and teachers put all the pressure on students and offer little support. Graduation requirements are also very harsh.”

A recent graduate from Dalian University of Technology, surnamed Zhang, told Sixth Tone that the late student’s final post resonated with him, as he had also been subjected to intense academic pressure during his master’s course. He suggested tutors should allocate more time to guiding students in their research.

“Some teachers will not have time to mentor students because they have to pass evaluations and secure funding,” Zhang said, referring to his own experience. “Sometimes, they will even require students to help them complete these tasks. Under such situations, students cannot devote themselves fully to their research, or get effective assistance from the teacher.”

Lately, a spate of student suicides — including ones at Xi’an Jiaotong University and Shanghai Jiao Tong University — have been blamed on academic supervisors exploiting their students and putting them under extreme pressure to complete their assignments. Last month, the Ministry of Education said it was improving the academic supervisor reassignment system for doctoral candidates, as well as prohibiting tutors from assigning nonacademic tasks to graduate students.

Liang Lingyan, a Shanghai-based mental health counselor with 16 years of experience with high school and university students, told Sixth Tone that a majority of her young clients report “depressive feelings” due to academic pressure. She added, however, that few students seek professional support to counter their negative emotions.

“Not many college students will reach out to schools for help when they encounter psychological problems,” Liang said. “It’s an issue that mental health counselors, including myself, have been trying to solve for years.”

In China, the Beijing Suicide Research and Prevention Center can be reached for free at 800-810-1117 or 010-82951332. In the United States, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached for free at 1-800-273-8255. A fuller list of prevention services by country can be found here.

Editor: Bibek Bhandari.

(Header image: People Visual)