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House 2nd reading measure on mental health in basic education faces obstacles

A proposed bill to improve the promotion and provision of mental health services in basic education through the hiring and deployment of mental health professionals was approved by the House of Representatives on second reading on Tuesday.

The Basic Education Mental Health and Well-Being Promotion Act, or House Bill No. 6574, was created by combining House Bills 929, 3691, 4162, and 4194, which were written by Representatives Roman Romulo (Pasig City), Rex Gatchalian (Valenzuela City 1st District), Harris Christopher Ongchuan (Northern Samar 2nd District), and Rufus Rodriguez (Cagayan de Oro City 2nd District), respectively.

The authors argued that the bill should be passed in order to address the significant lack of mental health experts in the basic education system and adequately care for both students’ and teachers’ emotional, psychological, and mental health well-being, particularly in the wake of the pandemic.

In accordance with HB 6574, a Mental Health and Well-being Office will be formed in every school division across the nation to meet the mental, emotional, and developmental needs of students and DepEd staff. This office will be managed and supervised by the Department of Education (DepEd).

It also requires the hiring and deployment of mental health professionals within five years of the Act’s coming into force, so that there are mental health professionals or mental health service providers in every public elementary and secondary school, vocational institution, and office at the central, regional, and school division governance levels of the DepEd.

A competent mental health professional holding the position of Guidance Services Specialist V with Salary Grade 24 will oversee the Mental Health and Well-being Office at the level of the school’s division.

HB 6574 also allows for the hiring of a sufficient number of mental health professionals with salary grades not below Salary Grade 16, including guidance associates and psychometricians at the entry level of Salary Grade 11. This is done in an effort to entice more mental health professionals to work in the basic education system.

The law also permits public schools to employ graduates from psychology or related subjects who may not yet be licensed as mental health practitioners to provide in-school mental health services, providing they complete capacity-building training as defined by the DepEd.

These must meet the necessary requirements and obtain a license as a mental health professional within three years of their date of employment, and they must also be under the supervision of certified mental health professionals working at the school’s division level.

The measure requires the DepEd to support the well-being, competencies, professional growth, and career development of mental health professionals within the DepEd in collaboration with the Department of Budget and Management, Civil Service Commission, Department of Health, and Professional Regulation Commission.

The Magna Carta for Public Health Workers, the Mental Health Act and other applicable statutes also guarantee rights and privileges for mental health professionals employed by the DepEd.

In order to preserve and address the mental health and well-being of students and staff, the DepEd shall provide adequate funding for mental health programs and projects.

The DepEd budget in the General Appropriations Act each year must contain the funds required for this Act’s execution.

Romulo stated in his address for sponsorship, “It is time that Congress responds and Congress provides for guidance counseling for both our instructors and our learners.”

The head of the House committee on Basic Education and Culture said, “That is one of our jobs and obligations to ensure that our instructors and learners are protected in our DepEd schools.”

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