With the passage of the Philippine Mental Health Law or Republic Act 11036, the focus on mental health and related services has intensified. Signed last June 21, 2018, the law aims to integrate mental health care in the country’s existing systems. With institutional pathways already set within the University on matters concerning mental health, what are its biggest stakeholders initiating at their end?
Coping through an organization
For COPE UP’s founder Dhan De Leon, it all started when he battled depression four years ago and he had to take a leave of absence from school. When he came back, he took a counseling elective from the College of Education and met Professor Lorelei Vinluan.
“She was very vocal about helping students and counseling them,” recalls Dhan. Armed with a robust support system of family and friends, De Leon pledged to do something to help address the rising incidents of mental health issues in the University. What was initially envisioned as a support group system evolved into COPE UP, a university-wide organization “raising mental health awareness and providing a sound environment for individuals experiencing mental health disorders, problems, and other mental health-related challenges inside and outside the University,” according to its Facebook page.
Currently, the organization has about 80 active members from an initial 23 spread across different colleges such as Business Administration (CBA), Science, Engineering, and Social Sciences and Philosophy (CSSP) whose members are Psychology majors.
In its founding year, COPE UP was able to conduct five mental health modules with topics including stress management and child psychology.
The organization also held workshops for its members through partnerships with Neuro-Linguistic Programming Manila and the University Student Council, where COPE UP assisted in the drafting of a mental health awareness module for Diliman organizations, sororities, and fraternities. In the near future, the organization plans to strengthen its internal dynamics by tapping professionals to facilitate trainings on peer counseling.
Leadership through service
As the local representative bodies of each of the 19 colleges in UP Diliman, the college student councils are tasked to develop campaigns, events, and services with the welfare of their own constituents in mind.
In the School of Economics (SE), the student council provided simple services such as free bubble wrap and stress balls, free food, and a day when they could pet dogs on campus. A campaign was also launched called “Diwa,” which allowed students to undergo free consultation sessions with psychologists, psychiatrists, and counselors.
“Diwa” was particularly challenging, according to SE Student Council Chair Josh Quimbo, because they had to ensure that the students’ identities would not be exposed.
Former Engineering Student Council (ESC) Public Relations Councilor Jason Fernandez talked about #SpeakOut, a mental health awareness campaign that kicked off with the ESC joining the Youth for Mental Health Coalition, and continued with a signboard campaign to push for a mental health law and a department caravan to hold mental health seminars in the college. The ESC also released a video series with #SpeakOut ambassadors expressing their sentiments about various mental health issues.
In the case of Malcolm Hall, the Law Student Government (LSG) formed its own Mental Health Committee and celebrated “Kalinaw,” a series of events dedicated to increasing awareness and breaking the stigma attached to mental health disorders. Headlining the week was the forum called “Bar Blues: A Talk on Spotting Depression and Anxiety, and Living With Them” and “Are You Having A Ruff Time?”, which brought therapy dogs from CARA Welfare Society to the halls of Malcolm. A primer and blog were also launched, along with a freedom wall during the week, and free film viewings for one day.
LSG President Chris Alquizalas says that the LSG was glad to have found a number of willing volunteers to help make the events a success. In the end, the goal is clear: to have an environment that is open and receptive to mental health issues, and to work together with the proper institutions in finding real and concrete solutions to address these issues.
Alternate venues to find purpose
All undergraduate students are required to take courses under the National Service Training Program (NSTP), which usually spans two semesters with a common module designed by the Diliman NSTP Office, which tackles leadership, citizenship, and volunteerism, and a second module particular to the college or unit administering the program.
There are currently three components under the NSTP: Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (military training), Civic Welfare Training Service (community work), and Literacy Training Service (teaching). The common module serves as preparation for students before immersing in their target partner communities or institutions.
Programs under the NSTP vary across colleges, offering a wide array of volunteerism options for students. In the CSSP, for example, both the Departments of Linguistics and Philosophy offer teaching opportunities such as philosophy for children. Meanwhile in the CBA and the School of Statistics, an integrated NSTP offering may be taken up in one semester. The Diliman NSTP Office does not demand that programs offered by the units be anchored on their respective disciplines.
“Sometimes the ideas emanate from the students, and sometimes they come from the program coordinators,” states NSTP Office Director Arlyn Macapinlac. The School of Statistics lets students conduct meaningful surveys and studies, the College of Engineering carries out disaster risk reduction and management training, while the College of Fine Arts makes murals and coloring books for children under the Department of Social Welfare and Development.
To promote the NSTP, the NSTP Office visits other state universities and colleges such as Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila. It also has a radio show on DZUP for its stakeholders in the UP community.
One interesting program, according to Director Macapinlac, is a partnership with the UP Main Library where the CSSP Library is also housed. In one meeting, the librarian mentioned that the library had a huge backlog in covering its books in plastic. This was how “Project AlaLib (Alalay sa Lib)” was born. All CSSP NSTP classes were requested to commit one Monday out of their regular schedule to help cover books. After one semester, the library ran out of plastic protective casings.
“Serving and volunteering do not always have to be grand gestures. It was a delight to see them develop their own systems in a seemingly simple task such as covering books with plastic casings,” Macapinlac relates.
The University is known for its less-than-forgiving circumstances that are supposedly designed to build character, but as empathy slowly finds it way and flows across channels carved by both its institutions and its students, UP may also progress not just as a haven for bright minds but for compassionate hearts as well.