23 March 2022

AUSN Mental Health Webinar engages ASEAN youth with healthy practices to combat mental health issues in the pandemic

AUN Writer Team

By Hannah Louise Dimayuga, AUN Intern

On 19 March 2022, the ASEAN University Student Network (AUSN), with the assistance of the ASEAN University Network (AUN) Secretariat, held its Mental Health Series Webinar to address the long-term impacts of the pandemic on student mental health and healthy ways to cope with it.

The event kicked off with opening remarks from the Chair of the AUSN, Fatin Aimuni binti Hj Suffian from Universiti Brunei Darussalam, who highlighted the COVID-19 pandemic as one of the main causes of feelings of uncertainty and emotional distress during this time. Thus, this year’s AUSN Team has worked to address these issues by organizing a webinar so that their fellow student colleagues can better adapt to the new normal.

The first talk in this webinar series focused on the topic of 'Flourishing in an Uncertain Times.' Rusli Bujang, the first speaker, is a well-known professional counselor, behavioral consultant, and life coach based in Brunei. In his talk, he emphasized the technicalities of the problems that cripple the youth towards the state of their mental health: change and uncertainty. 

Change, Rusli said, is an act of leaving a past state and moving forward to a state unknown to man. The act of change as an unexpected and unwanted event, similar to the advent of the pandemic, amplifies the feeling of uncertainty. Moreover, Rusli explained that uncertainties are deemed more stressful than predicted future outcomes. With no clear answer, the difficulty in staying at present and moving forward, and feeling disassociated with peers and society deepens the worry for oneself. 

Rusli recommended focusing on what you can accept and control and practicing mindfulness and meditation to alleviate the mind's problems of change and uncertainty in this challenging time. Furthermore, Rusli encouraged the AUSN youth to be more open-minded and realistic of one's beliefs and expectations so that in the end, one can easily accept the turnout of events. The ABC, or Area Beyond our Control, is a space where one classifies things that one cannot have control of. By organizing things that are out of reach and within one's reach, it shall be easier to focus on things that do matter. Finally, Rusli emphasized the need to practice mindfulness through Emotional Focus Therapy (EFT) tapping. Rusli ended his speech by demonstrating the EFT--by repetitively tapping different parts of the body with one's fingers and reiterating words of encouragement to oneself, it shall deviate one's wandering mind into a state of relaxation.

The second speaker is Dr. Laurene Chua-Garcia, president of the University Mobility in Asia and the Pacific (UMAP) Philippine Council. She also sits as the Vice President for External Relations and Internationalization at the De La Salle University (DLSU) in the Philippines. 
Dr. Laurene's approach in her talk on 'From Languishing to Depression: The Help Needed' is more conversational. Relating to the youth, Dr. Laurene explained the feeling of languishing, stating that feelings of dissatisfaction, empathy, and lack of social connection and interaction, especially in the pandemic, can lead to languishing. Although not a diagnosed clinical condition, once the feeling of languishing is not appropriately addressed, it can lead to burnout and depression. 

To combat the feeling of languishing, Dr. Laurene stressed the importance of connectedness, engagement, and confidence. Engaging oneself with hobbies and interests different from daily work and routine may aid the feeling of emptiness and disconnect from the world and oneself. Being engaged leads to confidence; therefore, it is essential not to lose connection in doing things and channeling peace for oneself.

Finally, Dr. Laurene reminded the youth to exercise regularly, eat healthy and good food portions, breathe correctly, and engage in relaxation and grounding. In her final words, Dr. Laurene demonstrated self-hypnosis to the virtual audience, which gained positive feedback as the audience enthusiastically participated in the said activity. 

The event concluded with the Vice-Chair of the AUSN, Na Lychoeng (Jing) of the Royal University of Phnom Penh, on her closing remark. Jing echoed the lessons learned throughout the webinar and provided final notes of optimism, empathy, and interconnectedness among ASEAN youth.