Bong Go

Bong Go files bill to establish mental health offices in public higher education institutions

February 1, 2023 People's Journal 405 views

NOTING how mental health disorders are often overlooked, with many failing to recognize the signs and symptoms, Senator Christopher “Bong” Go filed Senate Bill No. 1786, which seeks to mandate public higher education institutions (HEIs) to strengthen their mental health services and to establish Mental Health Offices in their respective campuses.

“One’s mental health has always been my priority, especially when the COVID-19 hit the country. Palagi itong iniiwasan na pag-usapan dahil kadalasan nahihiya sila sa posibilidad na ma-discriminate sila ng tao. But mental health is an important part of your well-being kaya dapat huwag natin ito pabayaan,” stressed Go, who chairs the Senate Committee on Health and Demography.

According to studies, reported suicide rates in the country have adversely increased for the past several decades, particularly among young people.

“Kaya hindi po dapat natin ito palagpasin. Mental health is very important to address just like any other health concern,” he continued.

For this reason, SBN 1786 which Go filed on January 26, aims to strengthen the mental health services of public higher education institutions by establishing a Mental Health Office in all their respective campuses, and hiring, deploying, and training of additional HEI-based mental health service personnel.

The Mental Health Offices shall set up campus hotlines with dedicated and trained guidance counselors to provide assistance to the whole HEI community, especially the students. The bill also states that special attention shall be given to those identified to have mental health problems or conditions, especially those at risk of committing suicide.

The Commission on Higher Education and the public HEIs, through their Mental Health Offices, shall then initiate and sustain a heightened campaign to raise the collective consciousness about mental health.

Furthermore, the measure also proposes to mandate educational institutions to raise awareness on mental health issues, identify and provide support and services for individuals at risk, and facility access by developing necessary mechanisms to further empower educational institutions in promoting the mental health and wellness of students, faculty, teaching and non-teaching staff, and other personnel.

The awareness campaign shall give special emphasis to the issues of suicide prevention, stress handling, mental health and nutrition, and guidance and counseling. The campaign shall ensure that the whole HEI community is aware of in-campus mental health services.

“Alam n’yo, umpisa pa lang ng pandemya, marami na pong naiulat na nakaka-experience ng depression… Marami rin nawalan ng kabuhayan,” recounted Go.

“Umpisa pa lang ng krisis, talagang maraming apektado to the point na tumataas rin ang depression and worse, suicide cases. We have to address this issue,” he reiterated.

According to a study conducted by the University of the Philippines Population Institute, 7.5% of Filipino youth had attempted suicide in 2021.

In addition, the study also reported that, between 2013 and 2021, “suicide ideation” among the Filipino youth more than doubled. Suicide ideation is a term used by the World Health Organization to describe “thoughts, wishes, preoccupations, and contemplations with death and suicide.”

“Hindi po ako titigil sa pagsasagawa at pagsuporta sa mga programa para makatulong sa ating mga kabataan at mga kababayan na may mental health disorders. Hindi po biro ito. Magtulung-tulong tayo para mabigyan ng sapat na suporta at pondo ang ating mga mental health programs,” urged Go.

Meanwhile, the senator highlighted that former president Rodrigo Duterte has earlier signed Republic Act 11036 or the Philippine Mental Health Act, which establishes a national mental health policy directed towards improving the health of the population.

The said Act also underlines the right of all Filipinos to mental health care while shaping the structural and attitudinal challenges to achieving positive mental health.

Specifically, it aims to provide mental health services at the barangay level, and integrate mental health and wellness programs at the grassroots level so that interventions will be felt by the communities. It also seeks to improve mental health facilities and promote mental health education in schools and workplaces.