MANILA – The House of Representatives on Monday stayed true to its commitment to the needs of state universities and colleges (SUCs) by approving on final reading House Bill (HB) No. 6416 which seeks to strengthen the mental health services of SUCs and appropriate the necessary funding requirements for it.

The proposed SUCs Mental Health Service Act was approved with 227 affirmative votes few days before Congress goes on Christmas break starting Dec. 17.

Under the measure, the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) shall require all SUCs to establish a Mental Health Office (MHO) in all their campuses, subject to the rules and regulations of the Civil Service Commission (CSC) and the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), and the policies, standards and guidelines of the CHED.

The MHOs shall set up campus hotlines with dedicated and trained guidance counselors to provide assistance to the whole SUC community, especially the students, with special attention given to those identified to have mental health problems or conditions, especially those at risk of committing suicide.

Under HB 6416, the MHOs are tasked to initiate and sustain a heightened campaign to raise the collective consciousness about mental health.

The awareness campaign shall give special emphasis to the issues of suicide prevention, stress handling, mental health and nutrition and guidance and counseling. The campaign shall ensure that the whole SUC community, especially the students, is aware of in-campus mental health services.

HB 6416 further mandates each MHO to hire, train and deploy mental health professionals who shall serve as the mental health service personnel of the SUCs, and to ensure that all SUCs, through their respective MHOs, shall have access to the services of at least three SUCs-based mental health service personnel, including one psychologist, at any given time.

The SUCs-based mental health service personnel are mandated to create a mechanism for timely crisis intervention and suicide prevention and the appropriate response strategies for the whole SUCs community, especially the students.

The proposed measure also directs the CHED, in coordination with the SUCs and other concerned government agencies, to prepare a uniform career and personnel development plan that shall include provisions on personal wellness, merit promotion, performance evaluation, in-service training, graduate scholarships, research grants and incentive award system; match the salary grades of mental health professionals with related plantilla items; and formulate a scheme for the continuous training of mental health service personnel, among others. (PNA)