Supporting students’ mental health

By: Hyacinth Tagupa - @inquirerdotnet - Columnist/Philippine Daily Inquirer | September 18,2020 - 08:00 AM

(Note: This piece discusses matters around suicide, which may be a sensitive subject for some readers.)

When our schools began to transition to “blended” learning, with much of the instruction done online, most of our concerns were on logistics and costs. In the hurried shift, little attention was left to the mental and emotional preparedness of learners. Now, the spate of reported suicide incidents linked to online learning reminds us that mental health is an area we should have accounted for as well. It also highlights the crucial supporting role of family and community around students.

For educators and educational institutions, this is a call for more compassion, flexibility, and patience during this shift, bearing in mind that a strange new emotional stupor affects many of us, including young students, during this pandemic.

Pressure and frustrations can come from all directions for them: deadlines, policies, the pace of lessons, inadequate equipment, the lack of a social environment. It may be worth examining which areas of blended education can be made more workable for learners—not to coddle them or dumb down their education, but to account for the new “default” that all of us are in.

This is also a time when counseling services, both in and out of the school setting, should be more visible and accessible to students. While entities like the Philippine Mental Health Association and Hopeline Philippines offer mental health services to Filipinos in general, a school- or community-based counselor may be more familiar to local students and more aware of their context.

It’s important to provide students with reachable avenues to deal with mental or emotional distress. But for such avenues to serve their purpose, learners themselves should be aware of them in the first place, and should understand that it’s okay to acknowledge their distress.

Back when I myself was a student, voluntarily talking to a guidance counselor wasn’t very common. The top reason to go to the guidance office was because it was prescribed by the school, and not because we students felt we could open up to a qualified adult. These days, the conversation on mental health is fortunately more open, but counseling services for learners still need to be normalized and popularized, especially during this pandemic.

Of course, while school counselors are vital, each student’s family should ideally be the first refuge for them. But are Filipino families ready to acknowledge and address mental wellness?

Discussing mental health in the Filipino setting is still often met with some form of hesitation, disbelief, or stigma. This is now compounded with the more tangible concerns taking up parents’ energy: their livelihood, the household budget, protecting their family’s physical health, rapidly changing ordinances, the list goes on. In this torrent of burdens, it may be hard for parents to pay attention to how their children are really doing, or to spare the time and patience to accompany them in their learning transition.

But it is important and potentially lifesaving. Being mindful of our family members’ experiences and aware of mental health red flags are even more crucial now that learners are staying at home.

In his PDI column last Wednesday, Prof. Michael L. Tan shared some valuable tips for parents to help ease the transition to the new mode of schooling. He suggests, among others, to maintain a fixed schedule (like with regular school), focus on one task at a time, and keep motivating each other, remembering that “hindi ito forever.”

Aside from these, it’s a good idea for parents and other household members to educate themselves on ways to support students’ mental health. There are plenty of resources online; in particular, Facebook pages like that of Hopeline PH regularly post tips and information on coping together.

And for students or their families who may need the attention of a trained mental health responder, here are some services to contact:

* The National Center for Mental Health Crisis Hotline (24/7 free service):

0917899-USAP (09178998727)

7-989-USAP (7-989- 8727)

* Hopeline Philippines (24/7 hotline):

0917-558-4673 (Globe)

0918-873-4673 (Smart)

02-88044673 (PLDT)

2919 (toll-free for Globe and TM)

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TAGS: blended education, blended learning, education, learners, Philippine Mental Health Association, schools

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