MANILA – As the country celebrates Mental Health Awareness Month, a lawmaker on Tuesday pushed for the passage of a measure to put up an inter-agency task force to mitigate the rise in student suicide cases.

Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Raymund Villafuerte said House of Representatives Bill 2895, or the proposed Suicide Prevention Act, requires the Department of Education (DepEd), Commission on Higher Education (CHED), and Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) to create a Task Force on Student Suicides to craft and implement early intervention and prevention programs to address the alarming mental health concern.

“The government, through the DepEd, CHED, and TESDA, should take steps to raise awareness of student suicide as a serious public health program,” Villafuerte said.

He cited a report released on this year’s World Mental Health Day on October 10 by the University of the Philippines Population Institute showing a nearly twofold increase from 2013 to 2021 in the number of teens and young adults aged 15 years to 25 years who had experienced “suicidal ideation.”

Suicidal ideation is a symptom of a major emotional depression or mental illness characterized by having suicidal thoughts or thinking of ending one's life.

He said mental health issues, especially among the youth, have been aggravated by the stringent lockdowns or mobility restrictions resulting from the pandemic, which had forced students and teenagers to keep off their schools and isolate themselves in their homes instead of hanging out with their peers.

Under the bill, the proposed task force shall raise awareness of student suicide as a serious public health issue; and craft programs on monitoring “suicide ideation” or suicidal thoughts among students.

It shall also provide timely referrals for community-based mental health care to and treatment of students at risk of emotional disorders leading to suicide and offer immediate support and information resources to the families and friends of students vulnerable to suicide attempts, among others.

The bill also requires the establishment of a timely response system to ensure that guidance counselors and teachers are properly trained in student suicide early intervention and prevention strategies.

President Ferdinand R. Marcos earlier said mental health should be a global priority.

“Ang kalusugang pangkaisipan ay nararapat na maging bahagi ng mga prayoridad na usaping pandaigdigan -- kasama ng climate change, kahirapan, at kapayapaan (Mental health should be part of the priority global issues – along with climate change, poverty and peace),” Marcos said.

Because the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic amplified more serious mental health problems, the President underscored the importance of fostering kindness.

“Sa pinagdaanan nating krisis sa nakaraang dalawang taon, sinubok nang labis ang tatag ng ating isipan kaya’t ang pagmamalasakit at kabutihan sa kapwa ay kinakailangan ngayon higit kailanman (In the crisis we have gone through in the past two years, our mental stability has been tested so much that caring and kindness to others are needed now more than ever),” he said. “Maging maingat at suportahan natin ang isa't isa (Be careful and let's support one another).” (PNA)