Senate bill on mental health and well-being: Managing a health problem that can’t be ignored

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Quietly and without fanfare, the Senate passed on third and final reading last Sept. 11 Senate Bill No. 2200, or the Basic Education Mental Health and Well-Being Promotion Act.

The measure was initially filed by Sen. Cristopher Go and principally sponsored by Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian.  Both senators said the  Senate’s approval of the bill would provide a new lease in life for the Filipino youth suffering from mental health challenges.
“This is not just a piece of legislation; it is a lifeline for our young learners in the face of a mental health crisis that cannot be ignored,” said Go, chairman of the Senate Committee on Health.

The Senate's green light on this bill could not have been more timely, as it was done a day after the observance of the World Suicide Prevention Day, which is Sept. 10.

The bill aims to establish a Mental Health and Well-Being Center in both public and private K-12 schools. It also supports the Department of Education’s (DepEd) learning recovery plan and creates new permanent positions for guidance counselor and guidance associate.

Mental health disorders are the least understood among diseases.  A mental illness is a physical illness of the brain that causes disturbances in thinking behavior, energy or emotion, making it difficult to cope with the ordinary demands of life.  People tend to attach negative stigma more on mental disorders than on regular non-communicable diseases, complicating the problems of treatment and prevention.

Medical research is starting to uncover the complicated causes of these diseases which can include genetics, brain chemistry, brain structure, trauma or having another medical condition, like heart disease.

Topping the list of mental conditions are anxiety disorders like post-traumatic stress disorder, panic attacks, generalized anxiety and specific phobias.  Included here are mood disorders such as depression and bipolar depression, schizophrenia and eating disorders. 

Science and modern technology have succeeded in some measure to fight these illnesses, which if left untreated could lead to suicide, the ultimate existential question that ends it all.

Social upheavals and natural disasters such as the Mt. Pinatubo eruption and the Covid-19 pandemic can cause mental diseases to rise.

The World Health Organization (WHO) considers mental illness as something that should concern all of humanity.  Thus, the Senate made the right move in passing Senate Bill 2200.

The bill also proposes to raise the salary grades of guidance counselors, a move that will attract more qualified professionals to these positions.

It also mandates educational institutions to conduct an awareness campaign on mental health issues giving special emphasis to issues like suicide prevention, stress handling, mental health and nutrition, and guidance and counseling.

The WHO said there is no health or sustainable development without mental health, which is too important to be left to the professionals alone. 

Mental health is everyone's business, and the Senate bill inching forward to becoming a law is an important step toward the goal of good health for all.