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Sorsogon schools train peer counselors to aid students facing mental stress

Trigger Warning: Mention of Suicide

LEGAZPI CITY (PIA) – Mariel (not her real name) spends long hours in front of her laptop computer doing her school assignments. 

Due to the constant pressure and uncertainty, she often feels exhausted and overwhelmed. She sometimes bursts into tears out of frustration.

This is how she described her typical day as a first-year student last school year. 

Mariel's struggles are common among many college students in the province of Sorsogon.  

This prompted tertiary schools in the province to organize groups that provide peer counseling to students, according to Pamela Viñas, regional education supervisor of Commission on Higher Education (CHED).  

Speaking at the Kapihan sa PIA forum, Viñas said the peer counselors have been trained by the CHED to resolve conflicts between peers and solve any problem involving peers. 

“Peer counselors were capacitated on how to appropriately respond to mental health problems,” she said.

Viñas said that in addition to peer support groups, each school in Sorsogon has a guidance counselor. 

However, Viñas said that students would be more reluctant to open up to a professional counselor. 

Stigma hinders students from seeking care from mental specialists.

The government’s support for student mental health takes center stage at the Kapihan sa PIA in Sorsogon City Feb. 15, 2024. L-R: Ma. Pamela Sorra-Viñas, education supervisor of Commission on Higher Education for Bicol; Regina Gonzalgo, mental health focal of Provincial Health Office in Sorsogon; Sheila Maria Morada, mental health and psychological support system coordinator of Schools Division Office of Sorsogon province; Josie Jadie, social welfare and development officer of Sorsogon City; and Dr. Gladys Escote, provincial head of Department of Health in Sorsogon. (Photo credits: Benilda Recebido/PIA Sorsogon)

“Dahil pag-iisipan sila na baliw o may nagawang kasalanan (for fear of being perceived as crazy or involved in  wrongdoing),” she said. 

In the same forum, Sorsogon Provincial Health Office mental health focal person Regina Gonzalgo revealed that 38 individuals committed suicide in 2023, including two students aged 15 and 19, while four others attempted to do so. 

Gonzalgo said hundreds of Sorsogonons are suffering from mental health conditions like bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, eating disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, disruptive behavior and dissocial disorders, depression, and anxiety disorders.

“These numbers are very alarming,” she said.

Sheila Maria Morada, mental health and psychological support system coordinator of Sorsogon Schools Division Office, said mental health disorders are also common among many basic education students in Sorsogon. 

To promote mental health and well-being in basic education, Morada said that each school in Sorsogon has employed a guidance counselor who also serves as a school nurse.

For Mariel, the previous school year drove her mental health to plummet to its lowest level yet because of a lot of pressure to get good grades. 

Anxiety—the mental-health tsunami of her generation—has caught up with her.

Dr. Gladys Escote, head of Department of Health’s field office in Sorsogon, said mental health conditions are often unrecognized because they have no physical symptoms. 

For those who want to avail themselves of mental health support from the government, DOH’s crisis hotline can be reached at 0908-639-2672 (Smart/Sun/TNT) and 0966-351-4518 and 0917-899-USAP (8727) (Globe/TM). (PIA5)

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Ernesto Delgado

Information Officer 3

Region 5

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