By Nicole Campos
Students who experience mental health issues may struggle with concentration, motivation, and productivity, which can negatively impact their overall academic performance. Addressing mental health issues can reduce the possibility of academic dropout, substance abuse, and suicidal thoughts—all of which can have long-lasting negative effects on a person’s life. Academic institutions have the responsibility to provide resources and support to students in maintaining good mental health. This could be provided in programs such as counseling services, mental health programs, and mental health awareness initiatives.
The University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) Office of Counseling and Guidance (OCG) has recently launched a new mental health program that aims to help students express themselves and their creativity through art. The program called the “Art-based Intervention Program,” was developed by OCG Director, Jea Agnes T. Buera, who was inspired by the talent and passion of the newly hired junior psychometrician, Ms. Angela Jean Reyes. Reyes, who is both an artist and a graduate student of psychology, was encouraged by Director Buera to share her artistic skills and passion with the students. “So sabi ko, ‘Aj, why don’t you share this with our students? Maganda kasi yung art sa mental health ng mga tao,’” Buera said. The program offers a unique approach to mental health support, combining art intervention and psychological counseling to help students express themselves and cope with stress and anxiety.
The program focuses mainly on visual art activities. The junior psychometrician plays a crucial role in determining the type of art activities included in the program. The specific art activities will depend on Reyes’ expertise and comfort level, as well as the support of the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs and the Chancellor. Buera expressed gratitude for the support of the university, as they were able to grant the OCG’s request for art materials which included crayons, canvas, paints, and brushes. While the program does not have a formal structure, Buera emphasized that it will be flexible and collaborative that will depend on the number of volunteer artists who have reached out to them.
Buera clarified that all intervention programs of the OCG share a common goal of promoting mental wellness among students. However, the Art-based Intervention Program stands out because it provides specific objectives that differ from other programs. The program uses art as a tool to provide a safe emotional outlet for students that encourages self-expression and creativity—which are beneficial to mental health. “Tapping into their emotions through art. Knowing yourself through art. Once you learn your emotions, the more you learn about your thought process. You know better what to do, alam mo kung paano solusyonan yun,” Buera explained. The program offers a unique approach to mental health support, helping students learn more about their emotions and thought processes while expressing themselves creatively.
However, the program does not aim to address certain types of mental health issues. Since it employs an intervention and not therapy. Buera reiterates that the goal of the program is more on promotion and prevention–not treatment. She said that if the participants of the program would be needing treatment, they will be referring them to the OCG’s mental health experts.
The OCG ensures the effectiveness of the Art-based Intervention program by collecting feedback from participants. After each workshop, the facilitators distribute evaluation forms that question the strengths and weaknesses of the conducted program. Buera stated that the feedback has been positive so far, with participants expressing satisfaction with the program. “We want to make sure that the program is meeting the needs of our students and providing them with the support they need,” Buera said. The office is committed to continuously improving the program by incorporating the feedback they receive, making sure that the program remains relevant and effective.
In their commitment to making the program accessible to all students, the office promotes the activity through online platforms such as their Facebook page which currently has 10,000 followers. “Mas madaming nakakakita ng publicity mats. Mas madaming students interested at sign up,” Buera explained. She also teaches speech rhetoric and constantly invites her students to join as well as encourage their staff to participate in the intervention.
In addition, Buera also emphasized the importance of collaborating with student volunteers to contribute to the success of their programs. The OCG works closely with Gabay volunteers from different colleges to assist in sending invites and participating in their programs. Buera explained that consulting with student volunteers is critical because they are students themselves, and their programs aim to address the needs of students. The Gabay volunteers provide unique insights into the challenges and issues faced by their peers, enabling the OCG to tailor their programs more effectively. Collaboration with student volunteers helps them to connect with a wider audience and deliver relevant programs
Buera hopes that the program will continue and further develop even after her term is over. The OCG aims to establish the program as a long-term initiative that has regular volunteers, funding, and continued widespread participation among students. Buera envisions the program will be continuously refined and improved, providing a safe and supportive environment for students to explore their emotions and promote their mental wellness. The OCG is committed to promoting mental health awareness and providing support to students, and the art-based intervention program is an integral part of this mission.
Buera also shared that they encountered several challenges in the creation and implementation of the program. One of the initial challenges was the lack of funds. To address this, they sought the help of the Vice Chancellor and received a supplementary budget for art materials and food. The support of the administration was also crucial in overcoming this challenge. Another challenge was the need for more interventions and opportunities for students to participate in art activities. They addressed this by creating more programs and workshops that cater to the different needs and interests of the students. Scheduling was also a challenge since students have different schedules, making it difficult to set a consistent schedule for the workshops. As a compromise, they employ flexible scheduling and accommodate the students’ availability as much as possible. Lastly, while they did not have challenges in finding volunteers, consistency in scheduling and participation was a challenge. They are working on improving their volunteer system to ensure better consistency and engagement. Overall, the OCG is continuously working to improve the program and overcome any challenges in order to provide a supportive and beneficial program for students.
When asked about the future of the program, Buera shared that they plan to expand the program beyond visual arts delving into other forms of art such as theatre and music. However, she emphasized the need for planning and requests to make this possible. The program will prioritize visual arts, theatre, and expressive art before venturing into music. Despite all the problems, they remain committed to continuously improving and expanding the program to help more students in need.