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Group urges gov’t to address rising student suicide cases, attempts

After the Department of Education (DepEd) reported a rise in suicide cases and attempts among students at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, a children’s organization called on several government agencies to address the alarming mental health crisis.

Save the Children Philippines stressed that the country’s problem on mental health is “a public health concern that requires an urgent whole-community approach response.”

This came after DepEd Assistant Secretary Dexter Galban earlier bared at a Senate hearing that a total of 404 learners died by suicide, and 2,147 learners attempted suicide in the Academic Year 2021-2022.

The group said that DepEd should develop and implement school-based mental health programs to help students cope with stressors caused by the impacts of the pandemic, and other issues like gender-based violence and bullying.

It also urged DepEd to ensure that there are sufficient school personnel who could provide support to learners to handle their psychosocial challenges, and make necessary referrals to other professionals, if needed.

Following recent reports of violence in several schools, the DepEd spokesperson Michael Poa earlier said the agency will seek help from mental health experts and advocates to craft and implement programs to address such issues.

Save the Children also said that the Department of Health (DOH) should prioritize the integration of mental health care into primary care by increasing the availability and accessibility of mental health services, and training primary care professionals on the promotion, prevention, care and protection.

DOH officer-in-charge Maria Rosario Vergeire said Tuesday that they are coordinating with DepEd on mental health services in schools and ensuring that students’ mental health wellness was uplifted.

She added that mental health hotlines were in place, and the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) offered a mental health package to make it more accessible to the public, even students.

Further, Save the Children called on the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) to make social welfare programs with child-friendly community-based mental health programs that address individual mental health and psychosocial needs, and the overall psychosocial needs of the family unit.

The group said the government’s mental health services should be improved to support children with special protection needs like those with disabilities, indigenous children, those in alternative care, those in street situations, those affected by disasters, climate change, and armed conflict, those in conflict with the law, and those others victimized by violence.

Save the Children Philippines CEO Atty. Alberto Muyot explained that millions of children could be saved if mental health awareness is raised and conversation on the matter is deepened, and if there are programs readily available to help address children’s mental health issues.

“Mentally healthy learners have better academic outcomes, forge healthy interpersonal relationships, and have an increased chance of a fulfilling adult life. Let us invest in children’s mental health and well-being by creating a better world that will positively transform their lives and the future we share,” he said in a statement.

“We have to break the stigma and tear down the environment of shame that have cloaked generations of children in silence and prevented them from enjoying their right to live in a safe and healthy environment.” — RSJ, GMA Integrated News