Yangchen C Rinzin 

Students anxious about school reopening, difficulty with online lessons, and examinations made up more than half the callers seeking counselling in the past six months.

693 people (305 males and 351 females) reached out to counsellors on the Sherig Counselling Service, a Facebook page between March and August 28. About 37 of the clients who sought counselling preferred to be counselled through text without sharing their gender details.

More than half (451) of them were students followed by teachers, parents and others, who did not want to disclose their details.

The career education and counselling division created Sherig Counselling Service page to cater to students and as a response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Five additional counsellors from the career education and counselling division also attend to the students from Thimphu.

A total of 147 certified school guidance counsellors across the country provide counselling to students. However, apart from the students, counsellors also help others.

Cases have increased over the months as the pandemic prolonged and with the recent lockdown. Many shared their academic concerns, financial challenges, and career counselling owing to a pandemic, according to an official from career education and counselling division.

The official said that most of the students shared that they were unable to cope up with the online teaching and that they wished to return to school.

“Even if they have access to smartphone and internet the students are still finding it difficult while some are worried about their performance because they lack access to online education,” the official, who is also a counsellor, said.

“Some students share that they were already poor in studies, and online study has affected their performance further.”

Some of the issues shared were emotional distress, anxiety, stress, family-related issues and depression.   

Students who used to top in the class were concerned to lose their position if everyone was given a general pass.

“Some have also prepared for various awards like the Golden Youth Award and other youth awards. They shared their unhappiness as there is no chance for them to aspire for such an award.”

Some students from lower-income families said that online education was expensive.

After Phuentsholing was declared a red zone, students from the town sought counselling to learn about the situation and asked if the government would relocate them to continue their education.

“We try to respond to students as soon as possible with accurate data and information without panicking since the clients usually panic when they seek counselling,” an official said.

If the case is severe and beyond counsellor’s capacity to handle, they refer the client to the relevant agency.

“Sometimes, students even panic and call when the nation’s situation on the Covid-19 cases are updated. But we explain the situation and convince them the government is working on the school reopening.”

An increasing number of people seeking counselling could be an indication that now a lot of people are feeling the impact of the pandemic, including the recent 21-day lockdown, the official said.

“Some could have been resilient in the beginning but are now feeling the brunt, so they seek counselling.”

Although some of the callers are teachers seeking counselling, one of the counsellors said that it was not due to work pressure. Their issues were personal, and some are in a panic because of the pandemic.

“It has become almost a taboo to talk about teachers seeking counselling during such times, but people must understand that teachers are also human,” an official said.

Some parents (including few civil servants) seek counselling on how to deal with children at home, especially those who have more than two.

If anyone needs counselling or support on any issues, the Sherig Counselling Service Facebook page has the phone numbers of counsellors across the country.