Philippine educators explore mental health concerns in UNODC webinar series

Manila (Philippines), 25 January 2022– Over 7,000 teachers nationwide tuned in for the launch of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s (UNODC) Psychosocial and Mental Health Webinars for Teachers via Zoom and Youtube Live.

The webinar series supported by the Bureau of the International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) of the US Department of State provides an avenue for teachers to understand how prolonged stress, impediments imposed as a result of COVID-19 pandemic and related fears can affect mental health and well-being. Moreover, work-life balance as well as stress-release techniques were discussed to equip participants with essential skills to properly respond to early signs of stress and deterioration of mental health.

Department of Education (DepEd) Chief of Health Division Dr. Ma. Corazon Dumlao, who represented Undersecretary Revsee A. Escobedo, relayed a message of solidarity as she underlined the importance of protecting the emotional, psychological, and social well-being of the community as she quipped, “We should not be afraid to ask for help.”

For its first offering, Dr. Homer Yabut of the De La Salle University-Psychology Department and chairperson of the Psychological Association of the Philippines-Central Luzon Chapter expounded on the common mental health issues in the workplace such as stress, anxiety, depression, and burnout.

Dr. Yabut discussed the implications of the COVID-19 situation on individuals including teachers such as experiencing fear, worry, and loneliness and feeling isolated due to the accentuated distance from support systems.

Virtual participants were able to share how they feel and how they perceive their current state of mental health through online interactive platform Mentimeter. Majority of the teachers expressed that they experienced burnouts, had difficulty in concentrating, and found it hard to engage in leisurely and pleasurable activities.

Dr. Yabut mentioned how prolonged anxiety and distress may push individuals to use illegal substance and emphasized the importance of understanding the harmful use of psychoactive substances and underlying conditions as overlapping and interplaying areas.

Further, he appealed to educators and officials to collectively work towards creating a healthy workplace through developing the positive aspects of work and the strengths of employees, and through enforcing health and safety policies and practices including identifying potential sources of distress.

INL Director Kelia Cummins also graced the activity and expressed support of the US Embassy in continuously providing assistance to counter crime and fight illegal drugs and instability abroad. She related the INL’s mandate in curbing the healthcare-related impacts of the pandemic including the mitigation of negative impact of COVID-19 in at-risk communities and schools.

“Together, we can continue to seek inspiration from each other in overcoming these challenges, not only through this training but through collaboration and communication,” Director Cummins said.

As the pilot run of the series ended, participants were reminded to practice mindfulness, recognize fleeting emotions in self and others, and regulate these emotions effectively.

Running until March 2022, the webinar series will next tackle peer support systems and mental health first aid. The episodes on mental health first aid were aired on February 15, 16, and 17, 2022 from 1PM-5PM.