Gatchalian insists public, private schools need to boost mental health programs for students

Senator Sherwin Gatchalian on Sunday, January 22 reiterated the need for more mental health initiatives in schools to help address the mental stress plaguing students, faculty members and parents.

Gatchalian made the call following the fatal stabbing incident involving two minor students of Culiat High School in Quezon City.

But while the senator said he doesn’t want to lead the ongoing investigation, the Senate Committee on Basic Education said there were already two things that came to mind in light of the incident and which will be discussed in a committee hearing: bullying and mental health issues among students.

“Una yung bullying. Lumalabas sa maraming pag-aaral, including PISA na malala ang bullying sa atin at itong bullying nakakaapekto ito doon sa bata at hindi lang sa bata kundi doon sa classroom at eskwelahan (First is the bullying. It appears from many studies, including PISA that bullying is serious among us and this bullying affects the child and not only the child but also in the classroom and school),” Gatchalian said in an interview over Radio DZBB.

Gatchalian is referring to the Program for International Student Assessment or PISA , a global study intended to measure 15-year old students proficiency in reading, mathematics and science.

“Dahil kung takot ang estudyante at alam nilang merong bully sa kanilang eskwelahan maraming mga bata ang natatakot at hindi komportable na pumasok (Because if the student is afraid and they know there is a bully in their school, many children are afraid and don't feel comfortable going to school),” he also said.

But the country already has an existing law on anti-bullying, Republic Act No. 10627 or the Anti-Bullying Act of 2013.

“We already have a law on Anti-Bullying, let's see if it is implemented properly and what else we can do to eliminate, reduce or eliminate bullying in our country. Because bullying is like what it is, a social problem in our schools and it affects our schools, our students),” he said.

Likewise, Gatchalian said he sees the need to tackle mental health, saying the Covid-19 pandemic has worsened the problem.

Citing the shooting incidents in schools in the United States, the lawmaker noted there are many instances that students committing heinous crimes have mental health issues. Many of these suspects have experienced and went throught things that damaged their morale, thinking and their mental health.

“Ito ay dapat nating paigtingin dahil napansin ko itong pandemya lalong lumakas ang pag-uusap ng mental health eh (We should intensify this because I noticed this pandemic the conversation about mental health is getting stronger),” he said.

Gatchalian also lamented that there is no formal structure in the country’s schools that can help strengthen mechanisms on mental health. He also noted there is also a lack of guidance counselors in the country’s schools.

“And we don't have a formal structure and we lack guidance counselors in our schools to address our mental health problem and that is one thing we will talk about,” he said.

Gatchalian has filed Senate Bill No. 379, or the proposed Mental Health and Well-Being Program to provide mental health services, emotional, developmental and preventive programs and other support services to students.

In his bill, the senator said there is a need to institutionalize mental health services in public and private schools in the country and to mandate the Department of Education (DepEd) to make mental health programs a priority in all schools.