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Jakarta Post

Educators confront mental health problems amid pandemic

  • Mariejo S. Ramos

    Inquirer.net/Asia News Network

Manila, Philippines   /   Mon, July 20, 2020   /   03:15 pm
Educators confront mental health problems amid pandemic An Indonesian student takes part on an online class from home by using her laptop and smartphone to chat with teachers for the next two weeks in Jakarta on March 17, 2020, amid concerns of the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak. (AFP/Bay Ismoyo)

As an educator for five years now, grade school teacher Rolyn Catanus-Gantalao of Negros Oriental had become dependent on routine activities. So when the province was locked down in March because of the pandemic, the sudden changes in school activities have seriously affected teachers like her.

“Our initial reaction was, we’re not prepared for what’s to come,” Gantalao said.

March would’ve been the month when teachers prepare the final grades of students, leading to special activities like proms, counselings, and graduation and recognition ceremonies.

But these activities were abruptly canceled as the Department of Education (DepEd) ordered schools to shift to online learning modes.

“As teachers, it’s heartbreaking for us that they won’t be able to experience these things that they’ve anticipated for the entire year,” Gantalao said. “What breaks their hearts breaks ours also; we, teachers, feel helpless because we feel like we can’t do anything to help them at this point.”

Support system

This situation led to stress and anxiety among teachers like her.

As close to 900,000 public school teachers nationwide are set to resume their classes through blended learning in August, a psychologist who has been helping people cope with the pandemic said it was imperative that teachers be given a safe space to vent and a support system to deal with mental issues.

In a webinar broadcast by the Inquirer on Friday, Dr. Carolina Uno-Rayco, national executive director of the Philippine Mental Health Association, said educators were coping with mental disorders differently.

Gantalao said her fellow teachers had to deal with personal struggles at home on top of their problems at work.

“Oftentimes, they don’t get to express their struggles and emotions because they’re expected to always be strong, because their students and community depend on them,” she said.

Rayco said it was important to strengthen teachers’ resiliency in dealing with “the normal stresses of life.”

 “Resiliency in the normal stresses of life is a characteristic of mental well-being,” she said, adding that one in five people are affected by mental disorders such as anxiety and depression.

“It is important to provide teachers with avenues to talk about their feelings, like setting aside time in formal meetings for ‘kumustahan’ sessions,” Rayco said.

‘Challenges’

In Cebu City, which has the biggest number of COVID-19 cases in the country, the director of DepEd in Central Visayas said school officials must find ways to help 82,000 teaching and nonteaching personnel cope with the pandemic.

“One of my personal challenges is the pressure of resolving day-to-day concerns at work and many office meetings, sometimes resulting in body pains, just as the city deals with the pandemic and the extension of the enhanced community quarantine,” Salustiano Jimenez said.

Mental disorders are an interplay of various factors, such as biology, genetics and extreme life events, so it is important to have a reliable expert to check and identify teachers at risk of mental health problems especially in the new normal, Rayco said.

“A lot of people may think that we are doing well and having the best days of our lives because of the work-from- home setup,” Gantalao said.

“But we also have our own … fears and anxieties. Aside from being classroom teachers, we are also wives, mothers, husbands who have roles and responsibilities in our families,” she said.