The Department of Education’s (DepEd) mental health program should be both cohesive and holistic to effectively uphold the well-being of learners, Senator Win Gatchalian said.
Gatchalian is alarmed that the implementation of mental health programs is not consistent across the country’s schools. He said many mental health disorders come with a heightened risk of taking one’s own life. Based on the DepEd’s 2021 data, 404 learners died by suicide while 2,147 attempted suicide. DepEd records also show that only 16,557 out of the country’s 60,157 schools have guidance offices and only 21,837 schools have conducted mental health celebration and awareness programs.
The Chairman of the Senate Committee on Basic Education also flagged that despite the parents’ crucial role in upholding the well-being of children, they have no formal involvement in the DepEd’s existing mental health programs.
Gatchalian filed the Basic Education Mental Health and Well-Being Promotion Act (Senate Bill No. 379), which seeks to institutionalize the Mental Health Program. This will provide mental health services, emotional, developmental and preventive programs, and other support services to ensure the social and emotional well-being of basic education learners and teaching and non-teaching personnel.
The lack of adequate personnel also prevents the DepEd from effectively implementing mental health programs in schools. To meet the ideal ratio of 1 guidance counselor per 500 students, 47,879 registered guidance counselors are needed nationwide. To date, however, there are only 4,379 registered guidance counselors under the Professional Regulation Commission, while only 3,286 are active.
To meet the need for guidance counselors, Gatchalian is proposing to raise their salaries. Under his proposed measure, the salary of Guidance Counselor I will increase to Salary Grade (SG) 16 (P39,672) from SG 11 (P27,000), Guidance Counselor II to SG 17 (P43,030) from SG 12 (P29,165), and Guidance Counselor III to SG 18 (P46,725) from SG 13 (P31,320).
Gatchalian also proposes the creation of a new position to be known as Guidance Associate that will actively participate in the implementation of the Mental Health and Well-Being Program.
“In my own observation, our mental health program is incohesive and not holistic. We need to institutionalize it and make it sustainable too,” said Gatchalian.