Number of students suffering from mental health issues growing

Sherrie Ann Torres, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 31 2023 09:31 PM

MANILA — Aside from shortage of classrooms, books and teachers, the Philippines' basic education system is also facing a problem on the rising number of children with mental health issues and educators sinking deeper in debt.

Education officials and professionals serving as guidance counselors underlined these issues during Tuesday’s Senate basic education committee public hearing, which centered on Senate Bill No. 379 or “An Act strengthening the promotion and delivery of mental health services in basic education schools through the institutionalization of the mental health and well-being program.”

During the hearing, Department of Education Assistant Secretary Dexter Galban reported the rising number of students who attempted to take their own lives.

Ensuring the mental wellness of students is very important especially as they face challenges brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, Galban said.

DepEd’s 2021 data showed a total of 404 students have committed suicide.

“I believe that even one suicide case is too much,” Galban said.

The DepEd data likewise showed 2,147 learners have attempted to commit suicide, the official said.

“This is an alarming rate that continues to go up, given the transition from face-to-face to online provided a strain to our learners,” Galban said.

For the DepEd, the problem with students experiencing mental health issues can be significantly aided by guidance counselors who, in an ideal situation, should be part of every school.

But in reality, of the 60,957 schools nationwide, there are only 16,557 guidance offices with 2,093 licensed guidance counselors, Galban said.

Children who have sought guidance from guidance counselors, according to their 2021 data, number to 775,962, Galban said.

“For a population group of 28 million, the ideal ratio is not hit. The recommended ratio is 1:250,” he said.

The Philippines has adjusted its ideal ratio to one guidance counselor per 500 learners, he added. Still, the actual ratio is 1:13,394.

“Major considerations that we are looking into is the unfilled positions when it comes to guidance and counseling. Moreso that the degree requirement is not commensurate with the compensation that are provided them," Galban said.

At the DepEd, the salary for entry level of Guidance Counselors who must be equipped with a Master’s degree is P27,000.

The agency has been pushing to move the salary grade of a guidance counsellor from the current SG 11 to SG 14 with an equivalent pay of P30,000 per month. But it has not been approved by the Department of Budget and Management, according to Resty Osias, Director of the DepEd's Bureau of Human Resources and Organizational Development (BHROD).


Senator Sherwin Gatchalian, chair of the Senate's Basic Education Committee, said they may recommend training teachers on how to easily spot a child suffering from depression or other forms of mental health issue.

Members of the committee will also recommend to the government to bring to Salary Grade 16 the entry level of guidance counselors, the senator said.

The country needs 47,000 guidance counselors to be added to the current pool of 4,000, Gatchalian said.

“In the meantime, ite-train muna natin ang mga teachers, dahil yung teachers, sila yung nakakausap sa bata, nakakausap nila. Kung nakikita nila yung bata matamlay, hindi tama 'yun kaniyang pagu-ugali, nade-detect na agad ng teacher at pwede na agad dalhin sa mga expert,” the lawmaker said.

This is needed since many parents do not understand and cannot identify mental health issues, he added.

This time, teachers will also be part of the target sectors of SB 379 or the proposed “Basic Education Mental Health and Well-Being Promotion Act,” Gatchalian said.

Like students, teachers will also receive counseling or psychological assistance.

“Itong batas natin ay para sa teaching at non-teaching professions… Kasama sa batas natin yung well-being ng mga teachers natin. Holistic siya pagdating sa private school and public school,” Gatchalian said.

“Ang set-up na iniisip natin dito, may guidance counselors tayo, regional and division level. So, meron tayong guidance counselor. May team din siya na magte-train sa mga teachers,” he added.


Aside from students, teachers also suffer mental health issues emanating from their own problems, said Sen. Raffy Tulfo pointed out.

“Maliit ang sweldo, masyadong malaking size ng klase. Kakulangan sa benepisyo o hindi nakakarating na benepisyo. Wala rin silang sick leave at holiday pay... At minsan ang masama pa ay ang mga studyante ang nagko-contribute para sa mga supply sa klase,” he said.

“Pambayad sa mga maintenance at janitors at para sa mga programa ng paaralan. At dahil sa mga kakulangan ng mga guro, nagtuturo sila ng mga subjects na wala sa kanilang specialization. All these contribute to stress of the teachers. At kung stressed ang mga teachers, naipapasa ito sa mga estudyante."

Debts hounding teachers receiving low pay also result to mental health problems, Tulfo said.

Gatchalian, taking note of many teachers' debt woes, instructed DepEd officials to submit the list of agency-accredited lending companies.

“We don’t want our teachers to sink in debts. Because that’s also part of mental health. The most grave source of mental health is paying debt,” Gatchalian said.

Sen. Nancy Binay said she wants DepEd Finance officials to personally attend the next hearing.

Editor's note:

A group in the Philippines is dedicated to addressing those who have suicidal tendencies.

The crisis hotlines of the Natasha Goulbourn Foundation aim to make these individuals feel that someone is ready to listen to them.

These are their hotline numbers:

Information and Crisis Intervention Center (02) 804-HOPE (4673) 0917-558-HOPE (4673) or (632) 211-4550 0917-852-HOPE (4673) or (632) 964-6876 0917-842-HOPE (4673) or (632) 964-4084
In Touch Crisis Lines: 0917-572-HOPE or (632) 211-1305 (02) 893-7606 (24/7) (02) 893-7603 (Mon-Fri, 9 am-5 pm) Globe (63917) 800.1123 or (632) 506.7314 Sun (63922) 893.8944 or (632) 346.8776


Watch more News on iWantTFC