Multiple sectors have recognized the importance of mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic and with the emergence of online distance learning (ODL). Numerous organizations have also promoted mental health awareness through social media and other platforms. Awareness, however, cannot go far without action.
Students need concrete initiatives that can have a significant impact on their lives. That said, fellow students may be in the best position to create that change. Student leaders are empowered to reach out to students on a more personal level and have the ability to positively impact their mental and emotional well-being.
Student leaders would already have a strong rapport with their peers. This enables them to better understand the needs of their fellow students.
The need to support individual students will give class officers a bigger role. Leading a small class of 30 to 40 students may feel unimportant but these officers play an invaluable role in ensuring that the concerns of each one is heard and addressed. Attending to the well-being of all the students can be overwhelming for just administrators and teachers.
Isabela Gigante, a former student council president of Ateneo de Cebu (2019-2020) said that students would be more reluctant to open up to a counselor. This is not to diminish the importance of professional counselors. In fact, their roles are so important especially now, and student leaders should do everything they can to assist them.
Even before the pandemic, Gigante’s council focused on eliminating the mental health stigma present in their school. She acknowledged that the topic was still considered taboo despite the “occasional talks” about it.
Gigante aimed to address this by promoting awareness and empowering student leaders to deal with mental health issues. She and the council implemented a project called “Me for Placards of Positivity,” creating and sharing infographics with the school community. Additionally, the “Me for The Mental Health of Others” initiative brought in professionals to teach student leaders on “how to appropriately respond to mental health problems.”
Pierre Reniva, moderator of the Xavier School San Juan student council, said that the student council must “journey with each student” to ensure that “no one gets left behind.” Effective mental health initiatives can be small but personal and relatable.
The Xavier School student council released regular posters and quotes to remind the students that “they are not alone” in their journey this school year. The student council can also play an important role in keeping the student body informed in a lighter and more positive manner, so the student council put out an engaging video series called “Timeout” that brings relevant social issues closer to the students.
Mental health can also act as a springboard for promoting other aspects of a holistic student formation. When individuals are nurtured, education programs can then focus on the community.
Mental health can equip students to be high-minded and engaged citizens. “We really wanted to start with the self,” said Reniva. He and the student council wanted to ensure that students were internally well before they tackled external issues.
Research suggests a positive relationship between the quality of mental health programs and academic performance in students. Effective mental health programs also encourage student involvement in extracurricular activities.
In ensuring that students have the necessary mental and emotional support, schools can expect better reception of other initiatives.
Leadership, on any level, is more than just an empty title. It’s not just a position. Student leadership extends far beyond the student council. Every student has the opportunity to uplift the mental health of their peers.
Personally, I’ve found leadership in extracurricular activities or committees to be invaluable. Leaders in these organizations can look out for the well-being of their own members and empower them to do the same for their peers. In the years to come, the student leaders will continue to play an important role in supporting this integral part of student life.
The author is the co-founder and lead developer of www.themindreform.com and is a student at Xavier School San Juan.