School-based mental health program bill reaches Senate plenary

2023 May 17

MENTAL HEALTH. Sen. Win Gatchalian, chairperson of the Committee on Basic Education, sponsors a measure seeking to promote mental health and well-being in basic education by institutionalizing a school-based mental health program Wednesday (May 17, 2023). By implementing this proposed measure, Gatchalian said there will be increased awareness among young people that seeking help from mental health specialists and associates is always an available option within their learning community.

MANILA – The measure seeking to promote mental health and well-being in basic education by institutionalizing a school-based mental health program was ushered in Wednesday to the Senate plenary by its sponsor, Senator Sherwin Gatchalian.

In his sponsorship speech, Gatchalian explained that Senate Bill 2200 will establish a mental health program which will define the role of every stakeholder in the school community to appropriately respond to mental health concerns through prevention, intervention, postvention (services offered for bereaved survivors) and recovery.

“It will be developed in consultation with learners, their parents and parent-substitutes, and implemented by the DepEd [Department of Education],” Gatchalian assured.

He said the program will also provide essential school-based mental health services, including screening, evaluation, assessment, and monitoring, mental health first aid, crisis response and referral system, mental health awareness and literacy, emotional, developmental and preventive programs, and other support services such as strengthening the learners’ family bonds.

Under Senate Bill 2200, DepEd will implement complementary measures that will enable other associated healthy behaviors among learners and eliminate the stigma on mental health counseling while providing mental health awareness programs and literacy and appropriate mental health-related referrals to teaching and non-teaching personnel.

Apart from this, a Care Center in every public and private basic education school in the country will be established that 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 as well.

“Specifically, the Center will serve as an instrument to deliver school-based mental health services, including the development of a localized multi-year roadmap on the School-based Mental Health Program, improvement of the mental health awareness and literacy of the teaching and non-teaching personnel, and establishment of linkages with the school community, including parents, parent-substitutes, LGUs [local government units], and other stakeholders. Moreover, the establishment of the Center will also be a key to equip the learners with skills and information for prevention, identification, and proper response and referral for their own and others’ mental health needs,” Gatchalian explained.

If passed into law, Senate Bill 2200 will pave the way to hiring and capacitating competent personnel who will promote and ensure the mental health and well-being of all learners.

Gatchalian said these personnel will promote their professional growth and career progression by prescribing the creation of new plantilla positions of Mental Health Specialists and Mental Health Associates in the DepEd.

“The new plantilla positions of Mental Health Specialists I to V and Mental Health Associates I to V will be created in the DepEd. All existing plantilla positions of Guidance Counselors and Psychologists in the DepEd shall be converted to Mental Health Specialists plantilla positions, and their corresponding salary grades will be adjusted in accordance with the salary schedule prescribed in this Act,” he said.

“Specifically, the compensation of the existing plantilla positions of Guidance Counselors I to III and Psychologists I to III will be adjusted to Salary Grades 16, 18 and 20, as their positions are converted to Mental Health Specialists I to III. To ensure their career progression, they can be promoted to Mental Health Specialists IV and V with Salary Grades 22 and 24, respectively,” he added.

According to Department Order Number 77, series of 2010, there should be one guidance counselor for every 500 learners at the secondary level based on DepEd-DBM [Department of Budget and Management] Organization and Staffing Standards.

However, Gatchalian said the country is facing a significant shortage with 23.98 million basic education learners for School Year 2022-23.

“As of February 2023, there are only 1,180 guidance counselors in DepEd. This means that for learners in Junior High School and Senior High School on average, DepEd has one guidance counselor for every 8,431 learners. If we include elementary level learners, this ratio increases to one guidance counselor available for every 20,319 learners on average,” he said.

During School Year 2021 to 2022, the DepEd reported that the number of learners who attempted suicide reached 2,147 learners while 404 took their own lives.

The World Health Organization recognizes the critical role of schools as primary mental health support systems for students, by enabling the planning and implementation of a broad spectrum of mental health actions that encompass promotion, prevention, intervention, and rehabilitation. 

Wilnard Bacelonia (PNA)