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House passes legislation enhancing SUCs’ access to mental health care

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On Monday, the House of Representatives upheld its commitment to serving the needs of state universities and colleges (SUCs) by passing House Bill (HB) No. 6416, which aims to improve the mental health services provided by SUCs and appropriate the necessary funding.

With 227 votes in favor, the proposed SUCs Mental Health Service Act was passed just before Congress’s holiday break, which begins on December 17, in a short vote.

In accordance with the measure, the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) will require all SUCs to set up a Mental Health Office (MHO) on each of their campuses, subject to the policies, standards, and guidelines of the CHED as well as the rules and regulations of the Civil Service Commission (CSC), the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), and the Civil Service Commission.

In order to assist the entire SUC community, particularly the students, the MHOs will set up campus hotlines with devoted and trained guidance counselors. Special attention will be given to those who have been identified as having mental health problems or conditions, particularly those who are at risk of committing suicide.

The MHOs are mandated under HB 6416 to start and maintain a more aggressive campaign to increase public awareness of mental health.

The awareness campaign will place a special emphasis on problems including advice and counseling, stress management, mental health, nutrition, and suicide prevention. The goal of the campaign is to raise awareness of on-campus mental health services among all members of the SUC community, but notably among students.

Additionally, HB 6416 requires each MHO to employ, train, and deploy mental health specialists to serve as the SUCs’ mental health service personnel and to make sure that all SUCs have access to at least three SUC-based mental health service specialists, including one psychologist, at any given time through their respective MHOs.

A system for prompt crisis intervention, suicide prevention, and appropriate response techniques for the entire SUCs community, especially the students, must be developed by the mental health service staff working at the SUCs.

The proposed measure also instructs the CHED to create a uniform career and personnel development plan in coordination with the SUCs and other relevant government agencies. This plan must include provisions for personal wellness, merit promotion, performance evaluation, in-service training, graduate scholarships, research grants, and incentive award systems.

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