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Students' mental health issues during distance learning due to 'interplay of factors' – expert

The mental health issues students experience during distance learning are due to an "interplay" of factors, said one of the country's top psychiatrists, who added that such issues cannot be solely attributed to the difficulties of the revamped education system. 

"It’s a very complex issue or concern. We need to look at it as an interplay of a lot of factors. These factors are biological, psychological, social, and  sometimes spiritual," Dr Joan Rifareal of the Philippine Psychiatric Association told Rappler in an interview on Wednesday, October 21. 

Rifareal said it was "hard to pinpoint" distance learning as a factor.

This issue was brought to light after the Department of Education (DepEd) released a statement on Tuesday appealing to the public to "stop directly connecting" the deaths of its teachers and students to the distance learning system. 

"We would like to request the public to respect the families’ privacy and avoid speculating on the cause of death," the DepEd said. 

"Suicide is a complex and sensitive issue," it added.

Stress is 'normal part of life'

According to Rifareal, stress is a "normal part of life," adding that this could also be positive in some respects.

Citing cases of her patients, Rifareal said that while some students see distance learning as a source of stress, it also enables them to be better in their studies.

"When we are stressed we are pushed to study hard, para magaling tayo sa (so we could be better in) exams and recitations," she explained.

Echoing DepEd, Rifareal said that one cannot directly link the stress that students experience during distance learning with the reported deaths.

However, Rifareal acknowledges that some of her student clients talk about feeling burnt out due to their classes' workload, and struggling with the new system due to a lack of resources.

Still, she said these feelings are not the sole culprits.

"It’s always an interplay of these factors. Like what’s happening in their family, or even relationships," she stressed.

Meanwhile, the DepEd said it would continue to reach out to teachers and students to "provide them with vital mental and psychosocial services."

The Philippines currently has a landmark mental health law which secures the rights of persons with mental health needs, provides mental health services, and promotes mental health education to schools, barangays, and workplaces.

The DepEd shifted to distance learning for the coming school year to comply with President Rodrigo Duterte's directive for schools to delay face-to-face classes until a coronavirus vaccine becomes available.

There was a heated debate in the country about when and how to start classes in the middle of an untamed crisis. Parents and students pointed out their lack of finances to acquire gadgets needed for distance learning. (READ: Parents bear the brunt of distance learning as classes shift online)

On October 5, over 24 million students in the country started classes again during the pandemic. Despite issues experienced by students, teachers, and parents, Education Secretary Leonor Briones said that the school opening was a success. – Rappler.com

In the Philippines, the Natasha Goulbourn Foundation has a depression and suicide prevention hotline to help those secretly suffering from depression. The numbers to call are ‎804-4673 and ‎0917-558-4673. Globe and TM subscribers may call the toll-free number 2919. More information is available on its website.

Bonz Magsambol

Bonz Magsambol is a multimedia reporter for Rappler, covering health, education, and social welfare. He first joined Rappler as a social media producer in 2016.

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