Graphics by Chris Josef De Jesus

Text by Julienne Espinosa

Jade Odulio is not sleeping well these days, if they even get any at all. 

The 17-year-old student, who prefers gender-neutral pronouns, reveals that they have developed a certain fear of sleeping since they know that the heavy academic workload will be the first thing to bombard their mind in the morning. 

“‘Yung utak ko ngayon, laging naka-work mode na, so kahit [when] I breakdown, nakaka-guilty, kasi sayang sa oras,” the UP Diliman first-year student confesses.

With the current remote learning setup, it’s hard to define boundaries between work and rest. Students develop a constant nagging sensation to attend to work-related matters, which can lead to overwhelming anxiety that 60% of college students already experience, a 2018 study finds. 

“Wala nang space for trying to recollect yourself. Wala nang pahinga,” Jade laments. 

The current pandemic “may worsen existing mental health problems and lead to more cases among children and adolescents because of the unique combination of the public health crisis, social isolation and economic recession,” a recent American Medical Association study shows. And on top of this, financial limitations further their suffering by giving a blurred vision on how tomorrow may go.

An added weight

Jade couldn’t help but feel nervous every time they would  click “Leave Meeting” for their last subject. They would inhale deeper, and whisper, “Paano na bukas?” while reading a text alert saying that they were on their last 50 MB of data and their pocket only had two five-peso coins left. 

“What’s hard about remote learning is… hindi nila alam na habang nagbabasa ka, iniisip mo rin paano mo ibu-budget ‘yung pera mo at ‘yung oras mo. [Ang] alam lang nila [ay] nag-aaral ka,” the student said. 

Jade’s burden gets heavier as their grandmother’s cracked voice keeps ringing in Jade’s ears. “JM, sana makita man lang kitang grumaduate, bago ako… alam mo na, ” their grandma would often tell them, as if it was her dying wish.

Jade struggles to stretch their lola’s P2,200 monthly pension for basic needs, maintenance medicines and school expenses. Keeping a strict 400-peso budget primarily for a weekly 100-peso load for mobile data, there is barely room for this student to afford anything beyond what is budgeted. 

“Natatakot ako gumasta. Minsan, pupunta akong tindahan, tapos maiisip ko, hala wait, paano ‘pag ginasta ko ‘to eh kailanganin ko ‘to bukas? Babalik na lang ako,” Jade said.

Financial constraints only aggravate feelings of being alone, since Jade finds it hard to reach out to professionals who can help them cope with all the pressure. “Mahal magbayad ng mga therapists and all, so nagre-resort na lang ako to other means, like breaking down,” Jade added. 

Studies have shown that school stands as a “de facto mental health system for many children and adolescents.” With 35% of adolescents acquiring mental health services from their school from 2012 to 2015, the current situation proves to be mentally harder, especially for low-income families like Jade’s.

Running an extra mile

At the brink of dropping out when the UP Board of Regents (BOR) rejected the appeal to postpone classes, Jade was advised by a friend to seek help on a larger scale by encouraging the student to post on social media.

The struggling first-year student  then launched their own “Piso para sa Pangarap” donation drive on Facebook and Twitter. As of Sept. 10, Jade has already received P2,000.

“I was guilty, kasi deserve ko ba talaga ‘to? ‘Yung thought ba na may mas mahirap sa akin, bakit ko ginagawa ‘to?” Jade shared. 

Because of this, Jade takes on extra work despite the expense on their physical and mental health. 

For additional income, Jade reformats laptops and installs computer applications to alleviate some of their financial distress. So far, this Iskolar ng Bayan was able to earn P800 when they started this month.

“I think it’s being exposed to people experiencing what I think are much harder situations and they just keep pushing,” Jade explained what prompted them to work. 

These are not enough to support their studies, however. 

This is why Jade tried applying for the Student Learning Assistance System (SLAS), which they have yet to receive updates from. With the way things are going, the university’s financial assistance may be Jade’s only hope to push through this semester, and yet they feel as if they are already being denied the only rope they can hold onto.

This made Jade feel more alone in this battle. “May lack of support na nakaka-isolate,” the student added. “Feeling ko talaga walang may alam ng sitwasyon ko.”

BA Linguistics student Sher-anne Rediang shared the same agony of waiting for a response from SLAS. Despite being granted an 80% discount on her tuition, she was not exempted from the delay that could have freed her from expense. 

Due to financial incapacity, her college department paid the P300 per unit balance in her stead. 

 “Kung hindi ko siguro poproblemahin ‘yung tuition, nasa tamang headspace lang ako na mag-aral. Parang may dagdag na pressure kasi ‘pag binabayaran mo ‘yung tuition tapos ‘di pa galing sa akin ‘yung pinambayad,” Sher-anne said. 

The SLAS is an extension of the 2014 Student Financial Assistance Online (SFA Online) which was launched for tuition subsidy and allowance. Direct applications for financial support and learning assistance through SLAS Online started last Sept. 7. 

Financial concerns like these add to the mental weight students are forced to carry. Such expenses may result in feelings of guilt or obligation to exceed usual performance in school even amid terrible working conditions.

A scary sunset

Most people see sunsets as a symbol of hope; but for Jade and Sher-anne, it is a sign of another battle yet to be faced. Carrying academic pressure on one shoulder and constant anxiety on the other, they struggle to make themselves virtually face their professors the next day. 

Jade and Sher-anne are just two of the thousands of students who are struggling this semester due to the administration’s negligence. Based on UP data alone, 5,600 students would find it hard to survive amid the new learning scheme. With the authorities aggressive in implementing such a system, learners are forced to fit a puzzle piece where it doesn’t belong.

“I guess the school said na ready na tayo, but they only assessed so far on things like internet connectivity lang, pero hindi nila inassess ‘yung other factors that comes into play sa remote learning, na mahirap talaga siya sa mental health,” Jade said.

This is just the tip of the iceberg; as suffering in the new learning scheme is continuously romanticized, the number of drowning youth is kept under wraps.

“Nakakaawa lang isipin na hindi pa sa akin ‘yung worst situation, na mayroon pa talagang mas malas sa akin, na ramdam na parang tinanggihan sila ng kanilang pangarap,” the struggling first-year student said.

When the administration decided that students are “ready” for this scheme, they also dismissed not only the lack of students’ resources, but also their emotional and mental wellbeing. Each day, students are being pushed to further suffer in isolation as they forcefully brave the uncertainty of their tomorrow.

And, if these students are what people claim to be the “hope of tomorrow,” why are they compelled to face circumstances that scare them from the future they are believed to save?

For mental health and psychosocial support, you may contact the National Mental Health Crisis hotline at 0917 899 8727, Hopeline Philippines’ 24/7 hotlines at 0917 558 4673 (Globe), 0918 873 4673 (Smart), 02-88044673 (PLDT), or 2919 (toll-free for Globe and TM). You may also get in touch with UPD PsycServ through [email protected] or the UP Diliman Office of Counseling and Guidance at (02) 981 8500 or through their Facebook page.


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