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By Carlena Knight

One mental health practitioner is sharing tips and guidelines for teachers, parents and students during this new normal of the academic year.

Schools officially reopened this month but Covid-19 has forced several to offer blended approaches of virtual and face-to-face classes.

Various protocols have also been instituted to ensure the safety of both educators and students.

Clinical psychologist Regina Apparicio is of the view that maintaining emotional wellbeing has never been more imperative.

“Given the ongoing challenges as it pertains to the Covid-19 pandemic, it is very important for persons to pay attention to their mental health because of the level of stress that is likely to be endured as a result,” Apparicio said.

“So for many persons who are breadwinners within their households, they are likely to be concerned about their financial stability at this very moment, or even if they are looking to leave school and try to enter the job market; not being sure if there are opportunities available can create this feeling of anxiety and even depression and for persons who already have challenges, managing these emotions … can be very trying for them.

“So, it is very important on a whole that individuals take stock of their mental health, given the connection between one’s mental health and physical health, especially if it is that persons already have pre-existing conditions like diabetes, or even hypertension, where stress can worsen the person’s inability to cope and manage these conditions and therefore worsening their health outcomes.”

According to the clinical psychologist, a strong support system is needed for teachers to vent, as they need to ensure that their environment is safe, because this will create a sense of safety in their minds and, in turn, their students.

“If it is that they are not able to feel that sense of safety and security, then that can definitely trickle down over in their ability to adequately offer support to their students who they are coming into contact with on a daily basis,” she explained.

“I would also encourage teachers to engage in various self-care activities, particularly at the start and end of the working day. Meditation, engaging in prayer, speaking to their support network especially if it is that they are feeling overwhelmed.

“Even reaching out to various mental health practitioners, resources that are available online, engage in journaling, which is writing out your feelings in a book, just trying to stay connected as best as possible,” Apparicio advised.

Teachers can even use some of these self-care activities daily in the classroom with students as well, to create a sense of peace and calm, and maintain their mental wellbeing due to shorter classroom sessions and an increase in workloads.

Meanwhile, where students are concerned, Apparicio said it is important for them to receive adequate time especially if the students show that they are not managing their emotions well.

She pointed out that a greater level of support will be needed for them, such as after school classes and discussions with parents and teachers to express how they feel on day to day basis. Breaks, she said, will be necessary for children to recuperate and limit chances of a mental overload due to the increase in their workload.

“The reality is that as our children continue to develop, they are still going to encounter challenges as it pertains to normal aspects of their development as they enter into adolescence. So, it is very important that their support system is there and available for them.

“I would also encourage that self-care practices are incorporated on an ongoing basis throughout their day as a part of their schedule and routine and that they are allowed to just relax and unwind and be encouraged to express themselves on how it is they are feeling throughout the day on an ongoing basis,” she said.

A strong relationship with teachers and parents, Apparicio said, is of outmost importance during this time. She is also encouraging parents to have regular discussions with their children about how they feel about the Covid-19 pandemic and how they are coping with school.

Regarding the safety protocols, creative ways should be inculcated in the household so that children, especially the younger ones, will not feel laboured when they actually get to school. Parents are also encouraged to engage in self-care activities and take up hobbies.

Another suggestion is that parents could also reach out to other parents to build a greater support system and also to be able to garner information on some subject areas that they may not fully understand.

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