For many freshmen, the privilege of being a UP student is an incomparable experience. Every year, thousands of hopefuls make a pilgrimage to their campuses of choice in the hope of eventually donning the iconic maroon-and-green. And for those who manage to get through, the promise of a new life is cause enough for optimism and celebration.
As with all great things, however, there is a another side to this charge. Just ask Dr. Violeta Bautista, head of UP Diliman’s (UPD) Clinical Psychology program. More than most, she has gotten to know first-hand the hidden fears and doubts that beset even the best UP applicants.
Years ago, while working as a consultant for the UP Health Service, Bautista and her colleagues noticed that a number of their interviewees hinted at looming psychological problems. When the institution revised its interview schedule and questionnaire to include items measuring the risk of students’ vulnerability to psychosocial issues, their fears were substantiated.
A good number of the applicants were evaluated as being at an elevated risk. For these individuals, getting medically cleared for enrollment required seeing a qualified mental health professional.
With the help of her interns, Bautista worked hard to meet this need, while also acting as the head of UP Diliman’s Office of Counseling and Guidance (OCG). It was during this stint that she was approached by UPD Chancellor Michael Tan with the mission to create an office completely devoted to giving psychosocial support and psychotherapy.
He asked, “Bolet, is it OK with you to help in establishing a new office?” The Chancellor himself had been hearing accounts of complicated mental health problems sometimes even manifesting as psychiatric conditions. “And of course that is beyond the realm of guidance and counseling,” Bautista said.
With that mandate, the UPD Psychosocial Services (PsycServ) was born, beginning small-scale operations in September 2017.
While PsycServ is a project formed to address contemporary needs, the seeds of expertise that power it were put into place years ago. When Typhoons Ondoy and Yolanda struck the country in 2009 and 2013, members of the Department of Psychology trained field workers to provide psychological first aid, while counseling and giving therapy to the traumatized. They were also part of moves to establish a CSSP Wellness Center, which would allow the team members to exercise a more direct community service role.
Soon after, however, the team, which also include Dr. Anna Cristina Tuazon and Dr. Divine Love Salvador as clinical advisers, were receiving requests of a different sort. Students were being referred to them who had nowhere else to go. Many were suffering from anxiety and depression. Something needed to be done.
To address this, PsycServ currently offers an impressive roster of services to all members of the UP community. The most central of these is a free set of eight therapy sessions for clients with psychiatric conditions or so-called ‘complex problems of living’—cases that are not necessarily psychiatric in nature yet, but might require professional assistance. These problems might include anything from work and relationship stress to more serious, chronic conditions. PsycServ personnel are also trained in crisis management, which could be required in cases, for instance, of community members threatening to harm others or themselves.
Finally, in the unfortunate event of a suicide, PsycServ personnel also deliver postvention to support the bereaved. “There are those cases that never reach us,” Bautista said. “So we provide postvention services so they don’t suffer the consequences of knowing what happened.”
“Some feel guilty about not being able to do anything about what happened,” she said. “Or feeling that if that could happen to someone and he or she was so accomplished, what more me?” Even those who witnessed a failed suicide or who are bearing the stress of supporting a friend with problems might need professional help to process these events. All of these services are offered to members of the UP Diliman community, be they student, faculty or staff member.
A growing demand
While waiting for their official launch as an office, the committed personnel behind PsycServ operate on a shoestring budget. Everyday operations are conducted by what Bautista dubbed their ‘Psychological Support Specialists’ (PSS), a team of eight part-time personnel with Clinical training. Of these, four have earned their licenses, while the others practice under supervision.
Even with this dedicated eight-person core, the demand can be overwhelming.
“So far we have taken care of around 450 students,” Bautista said. “And around 35% of them have suicidal ideations.” She noted with relief how lucky she was that her PSS people are as hardworking as they are, especially since some cases have them going far beyond their part-time hours.
“Because when you have clients who threaten harm, they call you even on weekends. And the PSS goes to them, talks to them, papakalmahin. Because that is a high-risk situation. We take them to the UP Health Service, because that’s a safe place to be in. You have nurses and security guards to watch over you 24/7.”
Despite psychological and psychiatric problems lately being more visible, especially with the passage of the Mental Health Act, Bautista believes that the other side of the equation is just as important. As much as those with problems might need help, efforts must also be made to keep the healthy ones healthy.
“We only have statistics of those who come here, but based on data by the DOH, we have maybe 15-20% of our population with psychiatric conditions. Malaki iyon! The low estimate is 7-10% but that’s still considerable.”
Translating that into the Diliman population, a tentative assumption leaves us with around 80-85% of students who are relatively OK. “The challenge is to keep them well, so we need evidence-based, psychologically informed wellness programs.”
Recently, PsycServ launched a group mindfulness workshop, which could help those with and without psychological problems to face life’s challenges with a better toolkit. They have also been quietly holding workshops with faculty and officials from UPD’s different colleges on how to become a ‘lifeline’. These session teach those who are most in contact with students how to provide psychological first aid, respond to crisis situations, identify those who might need help, and make the proper referrals.
All of these efforts converge with what Bautista sees as a welcome growth in national awareness about mental health. In addition to the Mental Health Act, she cites the recently held Summit on Transforming UP into a Nurturing and Healthy University last April 2018 as a sign that the mental health conversation in universities is taking a needed step forward.
“That’s why your puso at isip theme is so consistent with what UP wants and what PsycServ wants. And that is to not only nurture the intellect and competencies of our students, but to support the processes that turn them into whole persons”.
PsycServ is located at Room 209B in UP Diliman’s Lagmay Hall. You may also reach them via telephone number 981-8500, loc. 2496, or mobile number 0916-757-3157.