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The Senate plenary debates the bill for a school-based mental health program.

Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian, the bill’s sponsor, introduced it to the Senate plenary on Wednesday to institutionalize a school-based mental health program and promote mental health and wellbeing in basic education.

In his speech as the bill’s sponsor, Gatchalian explained that Senate Bill 2200 will create a mental health program that will outline the responsibilities of each stakeholder in the school community to respond to mental health issues through postvention (services provided for bereaved survivors), prevention, intervention, and recovery.

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

According to him, the program will also offer crucial in-school mental health services, such as screening, evaluation, assessment, and monitoring, mental health first aid, a crisis response and referral system, mental health awareness and literacy, emotional, developmental, and preventive programs, as well as other support services like fostering closer ties between students and their families.

By Senate Bill 2200, the Department of Education (DepEd) will put complementary measures in place that will encourage other related healthy behaviors among students and remove the stigma associated with seeking mental health counseling, all the while offering teaching and non-teaching staff members mental health awareness programs, literacy training, and appropriate mental health-related referrals.

In addition, a Care Center will be established in each public and private basic education school nationwide. This Care Center will have practical physical amenities, be situated in a sufficient area where confidentiality is maintained, and be open to students, teachers, and non-teaching staff.

“More specifically, the Center will act as a tool 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 teaching and non-teaching staff’s mental health awareness and literacy, and establishment of links with the school community, including parents, parent-substitutes, LGUs [local government units], and other stakeholders. Furthermore, the Center’s establishment will be essential in providing students with the knowledge and abilities necessary for the prevention, detection, appropriate response, and referral for both their own and other people’s mental health issues, according to Gatchalian.

If Senate Bill 2200 becomes law, it will open the door to recruiting and training qualified employees who will support and ensure all students’ mental health and well-being.

Gatchalian claimed that these individuals will foster their professional development and career advancement by directing the construction of new plantilla posts for Mental Health Specialists and Mental Health Associates at the DepEd.

“The DepEd will create the new plantilla positions of Mental Health Specialists I to V and Mental Health Associates I to V. In line with the compensation schedule outlined in this Act, “all current plantilla positions of guidance counselors and psychologists in the DepEd shall be converted to mental health specialist plantilla positions,” he stated.

“Specifically, as their jobs are being transformed to Mental Health Specialists I to III, the salary of the existing plantilla positions of Guidance Counselors I to III and Psychologists I to III will be modified to Salary Grades 16, 18 and 20. He continued they can be promoted to Mental Health Specialists IV and V with Salary Grades 22 and 24, respectively, to ensure their professional advancement.

A secondary school should have one guidance counselor for every 500 students under Department Order Number 77, series of 2010, which is based on DepEd-DBM [Department of Budget and Management] Organization and Staffing Standards.

With 23,98 million students enrolled in basic education for the 2022–2023 school year, Gatchalian claimed that the nation will be severely shorthanded.

There will only be 1,180 guidance counselors working for DepEd as of February 2023. This indicates that DepEd has one guidance counselor for every 8,431 students in junior high and senior high school on average. This ratio rises to one guidance counselor accessible for every 20,319 students on average if we include elementary school students, he noted.

The DepEd stated that 404 students committed suicide and 2,147 students attempted suicide during the school year 2021–2022.

By facilitating the planning and execution of a wide range of mental health measures, including promotion, prevention, intervention, and rehabilitation, schools are recognized by the World Health Organization as being essential main mental health support systems for students.

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