Laarni Salaguinto was one of a number of people from around the world who answered a couple of questions for the Uppdrag Mission issue on mental health. Since she sent a longer reply, we decided to publish it as an article on its own, and in both English and Swedish.
What needs for support for mental health do you notice? What kinds of support do you think that the Church and individual Christians should offer?
Stress, depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues were brought about because of the pandemic. This situation limits us from doing our usual routines and causes a huge change in the life of every individual. Psychological fears result in the deaths of thousands of people. Our ACTS seminarians, who live simply and are staying in a community, were affected too. Life in the seminary is theory-practice. Weekdays are theory in the classrooms, and on the weekends there is practice in the field or nearby parishes. However, this pandemic has also changed this routine. Our seminarians cannot put into practice what they had learned in the classroom. Nevertheless, this hasn’t stopped them from reaching out to the faithful. They have maximized using social media and other means, because the faithful are also now more in need of the pastoral care of church people to still feel and see hope.
As we continue in facing these changes in daily routine, way of thinking, and lifestyle, I have noticed the support needed for mental health is to strengthen awareness. Being aware of our overall mental health is important so that we can keep ourselves from having problems, most especially now as we turn to another chapter and another beginning as we face the new normal, a new normal that we are all not completely ready to face, despite the fact that we claim that we are prepared and able. But even if we’re not ready, we must always remember that mental health is one of the most important things an individual must always be aware of. Psychological experts are not enough as our refuge in times of pandemic, because even the strongest person undergoes mental health issues.
Churches and individual Christians can also make a huge impact in changing the mindset of a person, because through their beliefs and wisdom they can help in changing one’s perspective in life. Stronger peer counseling and pastoral counseling can be a significant and relevant tool we must offer to those who are in need. The seminarians need this as much as everyone else. Seminarians who took our course in Clinical Pastoral Education, which brings them into encounters with persons in crisis, can help in taking care of the mental health of their fellow seminarians. Through their involvement with seminarians in need and the feedback from peers and supervisors, they also develop a new awareness of themselves as persons and of the needs of those to whom they minister. Some of the people whom they tend to help and minister are also in a way finding themselves in a situation that made them question their faith and belief. It is one of the seminarians’ concerns to address how their relationship to God will be re-connected and strengthened.
Most people who are suffering from mental health issues usually are also having difficulties in reconnecting to people. The art of listening is needed in counseling, because it can encourage an individual to be open and relax as she or he finds himself. Counseling will help her or him overcome and convert negative or fearful thoughts into positive ones. Understanding and assessing these problems and struggles will lead to the intervention. It may take a lot of time, but the process will help the individual resolve and released anxieties and stresses.
Rev. Laarni Salaguinto is the librarian at the Aglipay Central Theological Seminary in Urdaneta City, Pangasinan, Philippines, and also a parish priest in Iglesia Filipina Independiente Parish of Nuestra Señora de La Paz Y Buen Viaje in La Paz, Umingan, Pangasinan, Philippines.