The power of seeking support
How reaching out for support helped boarder students cope during the lockdown in southern Bhutan.
When the nationwide lockdown was announced on August 11, Tshering* and many others were stranded in a private boarding school in the southern region of Bhutan.
The 17-year-old felt the lockdown caused her emotions to go through a ‘rollercoaster ride.’ Students at the school were busy with continuous online classes, extra study hours and unable to step out of their compounds. “Being boarder students, taking online lessons was inconvenient as not all of us have phones.”
Tshering and her friends were worried about more than just their studies. They were concerned about food and clean water and whether the school had enough stock of ration to last through the lockdown.
The pandemic exacerbated existing issues and made young people feel more stressed. “I witnessed my roommates have breakdowns and heard the sighs of exhaustion and frustration of my schoolmates.”
She felt that the pandemic added to the normal academic pressure. “It is affecting the students mentally, as we are already anxious about the threat of contracting the virus. We constantly worry about our families back home and ourselves.”
Tshering and her friends were unable to cope with the rapid changes and they did not know who they could turn to. “We didn’t want to worry our families; they already had their hands full. Ultimately, we reached out to UNICEF in Bhutan and got access to a counsellor.”
UNICEF Bhutan received a message from Tshering through its social media page and email seeking guidance to cope with the issues the pandemic had triggered for students like her. UNICEF shared her concerns with the Sherig Counselling Services at the Ministry of Education and a school guidance counsellor reached out to Tshering and her friends.
“We didn’t want to worry our families; they already had their hands full. Ultimately, we reached out to UNICEF in Bhutan and got access to a counsellor.”
Tshering said the counsellor was able to help them express their feelings and taught them several coping skills. “The counselling was a remedy; we had several sessions where my friends and I would pour out our repressed emotions and the counselor would ensure us that our internal conflict is valid and reasonable.”
Since the closure of schools in March this year to August, through the lockdown period, a total of 204 children and young people sought counselling for mental health related issues from Sherig Counselling Services and the National Commission for Women and Children helplines.
Tshering believes it is important for the society to learn and talk about mental health. “It is difficult to simply survive in a society that doesn't have enough awareness on mental health, especially when we're living through the pandemic and acting as if we're not.”
With the support they received, Tshering and her friends are today feeling better. “Maybe sometimes, acceptance is all we need to be heard and understood while not being belittled."
*Name changed to maintain the confidentiality of the student. Photo used for illustration purpose only.
The story is part of the Project Gawa campaign, a platform for children and young people to express, to ask questions, to share their concerns and to help them understand their emotions. Read more about the campaign here https://www.unicef.org/bhutan/project-gawa