Gatchalian elevates bill on school-based mental health program to Senate plenary
MANILA, Philippines — “We cannot continue to allow our learners to suffer in silence.”
Senator Sherwin Gatchalian sounded this call on Wednesday when he elevated to the Senate plenary a bill that would institutionalize a school-based mental health program in public and private basic education institutions across the country.
Gatchalian, head of the Senate basic education panel, sponsored the proposed Basic Education Mental Health and Well-Being Promotion Act during the session.
“We owe it to our children to provide them with an education that is not only academically driven but also mentally and emotionally enriching. Only then can we truly say that we are providing our learners with quality education,” he said.
What’s in the bill?
If passed into law, Gatchalian said the school-based mental health program will determine the role of every individual in the school community “to appropriately respond to mental health concerns through prevention, intervention, postvention, and recovery.”
This, he noted, will be put together and developed in consultation with learners, parents, and parent-substitutes and implemented by the Department of Education (DepEd).
Essential mental health services will be made available in schools under the measure, Gatchalian said.
“The DepEd will implement complementary measures that enable other associated healthy behaviors among learners and eliminate the stigma on mental health counseling. It will also provide mental health awareness programs and literacy and appropriate mental health-related referrals to teaching and non-teaching personnel,” the legislator said.
Gatchalian said the “cornerstone” of the proposed legislation is to establish a care center in every public basic education school in the country. Private schools, meanwhile, will be called to establish and maintain such centers.
“The center will be equipped with functional physical facilities, located within an adequate space where confidentiality is maintained and accessible to the learners, teachers, and non-teaching personnel,” he said.
Among the other proposed functions of the care centers are to:
- Develop and implement a localized multi-year school-based mental health program
- Provide mental health awareness and literacy programs for teaching and non-teaching personnel
- Establish linkages of the school community with parents, parent substitutes, local governments, and other stakeholders in implementing the school-based mental health program and improving learners’ school behaviors and academic performance
- Facilitate the efficient referral for appropriate mental health interventions to and provision of adequate aftercare support by other appropriate agencies, institutions, organizations, or professionals
- Equip learners with skills and information for prevention, identification, and proper response and referral for their own and others’ mental health needs
- Ensure stigma reduction through education and training for all stakeholders in the school community
Gatchalian said the law will also push schools and the DepEd “to hire and capacitate competent personnel whose duties and responsibilities shall be geared toward promoting and ensuring the mental health and well-being of all learners.”
He said this would address the shortfall of guidance counselors in basic education institutions and ensure that learners have access to the mental health services they need.
“We cannot afford to turn a blind eye to this issue any longer. It affects the progress and well-being of our learners and even our society. In passing this law, we further recognize schools as second homes of learners, not just in cultivating knowledge and skills, but also in caring for their mental health,” Gatchalian said.
Back when the proposed measure was being discussed by the Senate basic education panel, DepEd revealed that 404 young students in the country took their own lives, while 2,147 others attempted suicide during the Academic Year 2021 – 2022 – when most schools were closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Among the country’s 28 million young learners in public schools, some 775,962 sought the assistance of guidance counselors over the same period. Around 8,000 of the concerns were about bullying, according to DepEd.