DepEd urged to ‘reach out’ to students, teachers

Amid the challenges brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of Education (DepEd) is being urged to reach out to both students and teachers through guidance counselors of various schools. 

The Philippine Guidance and Counseling Association (PGCA), the main association of all guidance counselors in the country, said the provision of psychosocial support services as well as counselling is very crucial at this time as both students and teachers feel the brunt of the pandemic. 

Mental health professional Francis Ray Subong, who is also a part of PGCA’s Board of Directors, told the Manila Bulletin that provision of mental health and psychosocial support services (MHPSS) is needed by teachers and students - especially those who are having difficulties in managing stress and anxiety.

Subong, who is also a guidance counselor and a career specialist, shared that “everyone needs” MHPSS. 

“When we experience disasters or this one, a pandemic, generally - all of us will be resilient and can recover and do not go on to develop mental health issues,” he said. “However, there should be interventions because the pandemic, for example, has a big impact on mental health.”

A master teacher at the Iloilo National High School, Subong shared that “there was a spike in suicide cases” in the province in the previous months. As reported to him, two students supposedly committed suicide.

Teachers, Subong said, have their own issues too. 

“While they work from home, there are other issues especially with the surviving finances and they are also pressured by deadlines so many of them might already be at the point of breaking down,” he explained.

“Mental health cannot be seen,” Subong said. “The challenge in DepEd, if we don’t have a mental health program, so what do we do? We just count the bodies or learners, teachers as statistics?” 

Amid the pandemic, Subong said that there are many emotional baggage especially among students and teachers. “It is a right of a student to avail guidance and counseling but we may not have enough guidance counselors who can provide these services in schools,” he said.

With the absence of face-to-face classes this school year, Subong noted that providing counselling to students and even teachers is more challenging. Thus, he noted the need for DepEd to reach out to students and teachers via online counselling - among others.  

“Psychosocial support is essential for maintaining a good physical and mental health and provides an important coping mechanism for people during difficult times,” Subong said. “Even though physical distancing should be observed, we hope that we do not lose socializing and even the emotional link with the others." 

When providing counselling or MHPSS especially for students, Subong underscored that manner by which it is delivered. 

“The approach should be age and developmentally appropriate,” he maintained. 

Given this, Subong appealed to DepEd to include the guidance counselors in the provision of MHPSS in schools. “We are in the best position to help DepEd so please utilize us,” he ended.