Xiaoxia (pseudonym), a 19-year-old in Lin’an, Zhejiang province, followed many of her peers after graduation and began working at an internship.
When her boss asked her to stamp a document with the company’s official seal, she was prepared to do so until another worker spotted that the document had the wrong account number. She complained to her parents, but they only said it was normal for a new intern to be criticized.
On the night of July 22, after a particularly hectic day, she drove her electric car down Tiaoxi Road and veered off into the adjacent river. A nearby resident named He Liyong phoned the police, who arrived to rescue Xiaoxia.
“My boss blamed me and my parents didn’t understand me. I felt I had no one to support me,” Xiaoxia said of her attempted suicide.
Suicide is on the rise among China’s young graduates. The Guangzhou Times reported that suicides among the 20-30 age group account for 38 percent of China’s annual total.
Qin Ping and Tang Fang, researchers at the Shandong University Center for Suicide Prevention and Research, studied suicidal attitudes among college students. The team cooperated the six universities in Wuhan, interviewing a total of 5,972 college students.
More than 16 percent of the students surveyed said they had contemplated suicide. Among those respondents, almost all of them said they had considered suicide during the last year.
About 1 percent of the students said they regularly considered suicide.
Youth Choosing Suicide
For students such as Hong Qiankun, a graduate of the chemical engineering program at Tsinghua University, suicide offers an escape from the pressure of finding a job. Hong threw himself from a building on the Zhongying College campus in Quanzhou, Fujian province.
In a letter to his parents, Hong wrote, “I am not a filial son and cannot find a good job. I refuse to be a burden to our family.”
Others ponder suicide because of troubles in love. A female graduate student at South China Agricultural University committed suicide by jumping from a campus building after her parents forced her to break up with her boyfriend of six years.
Suicides related to the job search or poor scores on the national civil service exam plague many of China’s best-known schools.
There are also some students who kill themselves because of long-term family problems. Liu Haibo, a senior high school student, attempted to overdose on sleeping spills and alcohol, and by cutting his wrists.
In most of the above cases, the victims had serious psychological problems and already lived on the edge of a breakdown.
But most Chinese people don’t consider mental illness to be a real disease.
Parents seldom acknowledge their children’s mental problems. In almost every campus suicide, the surviving family said they were unaware of a change in their child’s attitude.
Such problems often have early roots. Helicopter parents – too eager to protect their children from the struggles of the world – deny their children the chance to learn to control their emotions. Without proper psychological defense mechanisms, students are unable to cope once they meet real pressure or frustration.
Society, for its part, amplifies these frustrations with a media monoculture that features fabulously wealthy young people. Viewers who lack confidence may compare themselves to the characters and feel pessimistic about their lives.
Western families may pay more attention to the healthy mental state of their children. They challenge their children to form their own thoughts and encourage them to share their troubles.
Put simply, these families encourage their children’s innovation while Chinese families praise their children for copying a successful model. The former encourages children to surpass their predecessors, while the latter teaches children to kowtow to their forerunners.
Moreover, foreign families spend less time trying to micromanage their children’s lives, allowing children to adapt to the environment and develop independence.
Schools in Britain attach great importance “frustration education.” For example, some top schools introduce intentionally challenging math questions to crush students’ pursuit of perfectionism and teach that failure is acceptable.
In the US, psychological counselors monitor the mental health problems of primary and middle school students.
In addition to psychological counseling and guidance, primary and middle schools in developed countries also teach about death. Zhang Hongyan, a teacher at Capital Normal University, said US schools have introduced the topic of death in the 1960s. Since then, both fear of death and the suicide rate have decreased significantly, he said.
Strategy for Prevention
The mental health situation in modern China is not optimistic.
According to the survey by the Ministry of Health, 20 percent of the population suffers from mental problems and 5 percent from advanced mental illness.
Hundreds of thousands of Chinese citizens kill themselves each year.
“There are 800,000 people who die of suicide every year in the world. One person commits suicide every 40 seconds. This kind of death can be prevented,” the World Health Organization said in its report titled “Prevent Suicide – A Global Priority.”
The report encourages countries to form suicide prevention strategies that bring together the resources of health, education, human affairs and justice. Currently, 28 countries offer an established suicide prevention strategy.
China has an opportunity to learn from Europe and the Americas in its battle against young suicide. The country needs a system to teach the life skills needed to manage frustration before it can grow to inspire suicide.
People who have attempted suicide people are at the greatest risk to try it again. For those who have suicidal thoughts, the community could offer counseling sessions or regular contact by telephone or home visitation.