MENTAL HEALTH ISSUE. More professional or clinical psychologists are needed to battle depression and maintain psychological well-being as prescribed by two laws, the mental health and universal health care, said Saint Louis University Sunflower Children’s Center Dr. Faridah Kristi Wetherick (with microphone) during the National Children’s Month press conference at the Baguio City Social Welfare Development Office on Tuesday. Also in photo are Gina Claire Henderson of the Helping Hands Healing Heart Ministries (left), OCSWDO social welfare officer 4 Liza Bulayugan and Baguio City Schools Division Superintendent Marie Carolyn Verano. (PNA photo by Pigeon M. Lobien)

BAGUIO CITY – On October 18, a 16-year-old high school student from one of the universities here simply slipped from the third floor of the school and fell on the roof of an adjoining building. The 15 to 18-foot plunge only saw an injured boy who was rushed to a nearby hospital.

Police report calls it an accident but students of the school knew better.

The boy really jumped off from his classroom. It was said that the boy suffered from heartache after his girlfriend broke up with him.

“Kids now just do it. Maybe from social pressure,” said Faridah Kristi Wetherick, assistant director of the Saint Louis University Sunflower Children’s-Center after the 27th National Children’s Month press conference at the Baguio City Social Welfare Development Office on Tuesday.

The 16-year-old’s case is but one of the latest failed suicide attempts recorded by the city.

Dr. Zoraida Clavio of the Baguio Health Services Office (HSO) said there are 13 recorded deaths from suicide so far this year of which three are aged 15-19.

The most so far are the age bracket 20-24 of which five have been recorded by their office.

Though the number is practically half of last year’s number of 25 (four and six cases for the said age brackets, respectively), Clavio said it is alarming and her office is helpless in dealing with mental problems that they “refer to more capable professionals” like a psychiatrist or professional psychologist.

With the signing of the Universal Health Law last February, Baguio, HSO medical officer Dr. Elvira Belingon said: “one among 33 local government units in the country to be an integration site for the implementation of the law which should be starting in 2020.”

As such, the Baguio HSO must provide to its more than 350,000 clients the full spectrum of health care, which includes preventive, promotive, curative, rehabilitative, and palliative care for medical, dental, mental, and emergency health services.

But Clavio admits that the HSO has no capability of providing for mental wellness, as they lack the resources, facility, and personnel to provide such service.

Not in the immediate future, she said, while adding that the local government has not allocated a budget or discussed its inclusion in budgetary deliberations.

“We just lack the qualified people for it,” said Wetherick, who holds a Ph.D. in psychology and among the few in the city.

While three of Baguio’s biggest universities offer a Bachelor of Science in Psychology degree, a handful of the graduates undergo the rigorous training and licensure examinations required to at least become a professional psychologist.

With the implementation of the Republic Act 10029 in 2013 or the Psychology law that regulates the practice, BS Psychology majors need to take the board exams to be licensed psychometricians, who can give and interpret psychological exams.

But it will be under the supervision of a professional psychologist, who has finished a master's degree in that field with 400 hours of on the job training and a board passer.

But along the way, many BS graduates shift to more “lucrative” professions like in human resources, the academe or guidance counseling, or worse, a totally different profession.

Wetherick said the Psychological Association of the Philippines has been clamoring that psychometricians and guidance counselors be at least recognized as associate psychologists to deliver mental health care and reduce the gap between the growing number of clients needing intervention and those who can provide it.

Even in the school setup, a professional psychologist is needed, she said, not just guidance counselors, who started taking licensure exams in 2004 with the passage of RA 9258 or the Guidance and Counselling Act of 2004.

It is, however, worse in the public schools that due to the failure in hiring a “qualified” guidance counselor, due to “over the board” requirements, school heads end up assigning counselor-designates, usually an “old” teacher.

“I would rather go for a young teacher whose age difference is not that big,” Wetherick said in the vernacular.

“They are more flexible and imaginative to deal with school children especially those with problems,” she added.

At present, they provide training for counselor- designates to help them deal with school children.

For more problematic youngsters, like sexually abused, they provide psychotherapy for free, because simply, “they cannot afford to pay professional help sessions.”

Wetherick said those referred by city offices are given free help but they charge for tests given because the materials used are purchased.

The month of November is the National Health Month with various activities scheduled starting November 1.

Among the activities are talent competitions, symposiums, and forums including reproductive health and gender sensitivity, lectures on children’s rights, training of service providers on child abuse, sports, among others.

In the city, it was launched on Nov. 4, at the Baguio City Hall.

While it will hold the culminating activities on November 29, the Children’s Mardi Gras on December 1 as well as the “Pan-oolnong di siged” or cultural presentation and talent showcase at the Child Family Service Philippines, Inc. at Manzanillo Subdivision.

In line with the month-long celebration, Mayor Benjamin Magalong also signed Executive Order 139 reconstituting the city council for the protection of children with the Department of Social Welfare Development regional director as chair and 26 government and non-government entities including the HSO and SLU Sunflower as members. The OCSWDO serves as a secretariat. (PNA)