Frontliner Story #24: Dr. Maria Isabel Lemen

Protecting The Mind Amidst The Chaos

By Audrey Garin and Benidict Prodon

Edited by Dana Eunise Cruz and Ysabelle de Leon

Frontliner sourcing by Jell Reyes

The Covid-19 pandemic has called for an immediate response to protect the physical health of the people. But this is not the case for the 51-year-old mother-of-three, Doctor of Philosophy, and psychologist Dr. Maria Isabel Lemen. For her, the pandemic has brought up another surge of need, the need to protect the mental health of the people.

Poster by Sheen Ochavo

Dr. Lemen, who started in this profession in her 40s and is currently working under the Center of Psychological Extension and Research Services (COPERS) and in her personal clinic, highlighted that the psychology and the mental health field have been encountering challenges lately with the increase of mental health-related concerns brought about by the pandemic.

Though she said that psychology has continued to be relevant whatever the situation is, now that the spotlight is on it, it has shone brighter as people start to recognize the need to take care of their mental health as well.

“[The pandemic has pushed scenarios like] staying at home, lack of socialization and interaction, [also] too much spending time with the family, and cabin fever,” Dr. Lemen said, explaining the common factors that led people to have mental health concerns lately.

In addition to this, she highlighted that it has been hard for people to divide the line between work or study and home which has brought up several issues personally and at home, and has developed symptoms of mental illnesses to some which are not evident before during the normal days.

Indeed, several adjustments have to be made by people today in order just to continue living in a better way in the midst of the pandemic.

Just like her patients and the rest of the people today who are being observed by mental health experts, Dr. Lemen also had several adjustments in her work. From several psychological services she does such as regular pro bono work she does for sexually abused victims and in army camps, to name a few, she resorts to doing limited face-to-face services and online services.

For her, at this point, it has been psychologists’ duty to be more empathetic towards others. However, just like any worker, they also faced challenges that limit them to perform their best services.

As a psychologist that conducts counseling and therapy, it has been hard for her to communicate well with her patients due to different barriers such as the face masks and acrylic dividers in her clinic to keep themselves safe. In fact, she is also slowly transitioning to the online mode through her Telehealth services. But these have limited her to show care to and understand her patients especially that facial expressions and physical gestures are very much important in her profession.

In addition, not everyone is comfortable with the online therapy and counseling setup and the divider she has in her clinic. At the same time, it has been a challenge for her family. This includes needing to have their own spaces at home for their personal work and studies and setting up boundaries between work and entertainment.

Yet, at the end of the day, Dr. Lemen’s love for service still persists in the midst of the pandemic. She still allots days for her pro bono work and regular work as a psychologist and even as an educator. Despite such challenges brought about by the current situation, she still makes sure that she gets to attend to the needs of her clients for she believes in the importance of taking care of our mental health every day.

“Minding your mental health is something that needs to be done and is important for your well-being… It is very important to be aware when you don’t feel well psychologically… Know yourself and know when to need help. [Lastly,] don’t be afraid to ask for help,” she firmly said.

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