Education Commissioner Dr. Alfred Ada said the Public School System has been awarded a grant by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to address social and emotional learning of mostly educators on island.
“In this pandemic, when we got hit with the COVID-19, and the lockdown, everything shifted overnight. It really did cause a lot trauma, not just ourselves, but mainly our students,” he said.
Under the SAMHSA grant, PSS was able to facilitate several mental health services, including the “Be Kind to Your Mind” campaign, where learning how to cope with trauma, as well as anxiety that may lead to depression, were taught.
“Before we get to depression, there’s that anxiety. How do we address the anxiety first? So, with Dr. Jen Maratita, Dr. Bonnie Pangelinan, and Dr. Bobby Cruz, and Lorraine Catienza, with the leadership of these grant writers that made the SAMHSA grant possible, we are able to address the trauma caused by this pandemic at all levels—from the Board of Education to PSS staff, to teachers, to school principals, and now, even the youth,” he said. “We’re teaching them how to review when you’re feeling anxious, what to do and how to recover. It’s as simple as breathing three times. We will be doing like several rounds of that. We want to keep our PSS community safe and healthy.”
The commissioner also shared that a lot of agencies have been reaching out to their mental health services, but they are prioritizing the students. “Students first,” he stressed.
Ada said their mental health mindfulness sessions aim to educate people to help “break the stigma” associated with mental health. “One of the things that they always stress is [that] we, as a community, have to break that stigma, that when you’re looking for help, because you—when you don’t understand why your heart is pumping and your mind is not thinking straight and [are feeling] negative—you’ve got to go out and seek help, or find someone to talk to,” he said. “This pandemic has really made us uncertain of everything, so it’s normal. It’s normal to go look for help. Don’t be ashamed. Don’t ever, because the life you save is yours.”
Participants are also being taught of the “current reality of what’s happening and how to move forward to be mentally safe.”
The commissioner appealed to everyone in the community to not be judgmental of those who are seeking help, or who are claiming to be feeling anxiety.
“I feel it too. I’m not ashamed. Nobody should ever be ashamed,” Ada said. “We need to take care of each other. This mental anguish, mental fatigue, the depression, they’re neither right nor wrong. They’re just there. But you’ve got to be conscious about it. When that time comes, [when] it’s a fight or flight, go look for help, please.”
In connection, everyone in the community is invited to the #MentalHealthMatters Vibe in Color fun obstacle course the CNMI Public School System has helped organize with the Community Guidance Center of the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. at the Francisco “Tan Ko” M. Palacios Baseball Field this Saturday, May 22, from 4pm to 6:30pm.