WE CAN’T BELIEVE WE STILL HAVE TO TALK ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH NOT BEING A JOKE
On December 16, Department of Education official Vilma Eda participated in a discussion on web series “NETFLiKS,” and proceeded to talk about the many ways the Department has prepared for online classes amidst the pandemic. What stood out the most, however, is her insensitive jokes on students committing suicide due to these requirements.
The better part of 2020 was spent indoors, as most of us already know from first-hand frustration on everything this new reality has taken from us throughout the year. One of the most affected sectors from this drastic change is the education sector, with students grappling to balance their mental health, home responsibilities, and a mountain of school requirements that seems to have grown even more now with online classes.
For months since the implementation of remote learning, students have been pleading with school administrations, and government institutions to give them a break. Or at the very least, provide more humane alternatives to the current system. At the beginning, it was all about the sudden need for every student to have a laptop and decent internet connection—something most Filipino families cannot afford. But through whatever means, they pulled through for the value of education. Only to be submerged with requirements that are even heavier now that they’re working from home and surrounded by different circumstances like floods, sick loved ones, or just the daily need to fend for food.
The country has seen various student-led initiatives throughout the months, with students taking it to the streets and social media to share their plight. Several incidents have also been reported of students and teachers committing suicide, which some believe is connected to the arduous demands of remote learning and online classes.
Of course, it should go without saying that things like mental health and suicide are no laughing matters, but it seems that certain officials didn’t get the memo.
In an episode of web series “NETFLiKS,” by youth assistance program Sirib Express, DepEd official Vilma Eda shared the preparations they have made for teachers, parents, and students to understand how to handle mental health concerns. After which, she commented with a chuckle: “Tapos mayroon pa ring nag-suicide daw dahil sa module.” (“And there are still students that commit suicide because of modules.”)
This one line immediately circulated all over social media, angering Filipinos. And understandably so.
— ???????????? (@marsh_swallow) December 16, 2020
nothing’s funny about students who commit suicide because of stress and problems. you’re part of DepEd officials but you’re not well educated about mental health! shame on you!! ???? #MentalHealthAwareness pic.twitter.com/KSHtvkjHkz
— adriań: (@imkyleadrian_) December 16, 2020
DepEd be like: pic.twitter.com/40wh7QwQdf
— ʟʏʀᴀ (@smhllyra) December 16, 2020
It’s frustrating, to say the least, to see leaders belittle and trivialize serious issues that involve human life, especially with the youth. The very people who we have entrusted to look after the well-being of our young students have clearly not taken the matter seriously enough, and see no problem with joking about it in front of a live audience.
This is wrong and insensitive in so many levels, but at the very core of it—when has it ever even been acceptable to joke about someone’s death?
May it be an elder or a child, a powerful man or a homeless mother, a murder or a self-inflicted act, it’s never okay to laugh about the loss of life. And there’s no reason for suicide that’s “foolish,” “stupid,” or laughable—and “because of modules” is definitely none of the above.
Let us reiterate that death is no laughing matter, and death due to self-inflicted harm is a tragic decision no one should ever be pushed to make. In fact, it’s something that shouldn’t even be a reality in the first place, if not for impossibly burdensome institutions in society that reduce people’s quality of life and make them think it’s the only way to rid themselves of these burdens.
Students just want to be heard, and for their burdens to be acknowledged by leaders who could do something about it. A little delikadesa (“decency”) is the least we could ask for from these people. Hopefully, this backlash from the Internet could open some eyes in the Department, and could make them realize the severity of the situation. At the very least, hopefully people will finally understand that jokes about mental health and suicide are not okay, and we wouldn’t have to keep reminding them.