As the world changes and becomes increasingly riddled with uncertainty, so do the issues of thriving in it become more complex. Thriving, not just living. Not merely existing but flourishing, capable of navigating life successfully and progressively.
COVID-19 has made the volatility of thriving all too clear. It has not only emphasized the varying degrees of frailty and strength of the human body; it has also forced the focus on mental health, the other part of human well-being that has been often overlooked and neglected.
The demand for mental health services has dramatically increased. One only needs to try getting an appointment with a counselor, psychologist, or psychiatrist to realize the difficulty of acquiring these services at this time. Using the now clichéd term to describe this pandemic, the demand for mental health services has been unprecedented. Yes, even in UP.
And UP is responding.
Initiatives to strengthen its mental health support system for students began to take root last year and have since been under the umbrella program called Sandigan, Sandalan: Training and Advocacy Programs for Mental Health. Sandigan and sandalan are Filipino words that refer to something that or someone who can be leaned on, relied upon, or can provide support and relief.
Sandigan, Sandalan has four components: the Directory of Mental Health Service Providers, including referral systems for focal persons and faculty members; the Training on Mental Health Promotion in the Teaching-Learning Environment; the Training Program for Peer Mental Health Advocates; and, the Student Mental Health Advocacy Program.
“Our approach to providing support is based on the positive view that mental health is not just the absence of mental illness, but an integral part of a person’s overall well-being,” revealed Dr. Richard Philip Gonzalo, Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs and Office of Student Financial Assistance Director.
Prof. Dan Paolo Yema of the UP Los Baños Department of Social Sciences explained, “In the past, mental health was only viewed in relation to mental illness and disorders. That is not what mental health is. That kind of thinking only leads to stigmatization. Mental health is about developing a person’s capacity to cope, develop potentials, be productive, and contribute to society.” Yema leads the Training Program for Peer Mental Health Advocates, where participants were active members of student organizations.
On the institutional side, Prof. Maria Angela Mabale of the UP Manila College of Nursing said that universities are crucial to mental health promotion because “there is expanding evidence indicating that university students are high-risk for psychological distress and mental disorders, and that the prevalence and severity of mental health difficulties is growing across student populations.” Mabale, who heads the Training Program for Mental Health Focal Persons, added that the program includes faculty well-being as well. She reported that more than 200 faculty members and staff of student affairs offices across the UP System have completed the program thus far.
The Student Mental Health Advocacy Program was conceptualized to recognize student-led initiatives on mental health promotion, while the Directory of Mental Health Service Providers, as the name indicates, is a listing of persons and institutions that can assist students on their mental health concerns and needs.
The University is hopeful that these mental health support programs will be sustained towards a thriving post-pandemic UP life.