(File photo)

MANILA – The House of Representatives on Tuesday passed on second reading a proposed measure seeking to strengthen the promotion and delivery of mental health services in basic education through the hiring and deployment of mental health professionals.

House Bill No. 6574, or the proposed Basic Education Mental Health and Well-Being Promotion Act, is a consolidation of House Bills 929, 3691, 4162 and 4194 authored by Representatives Roman Romulo (Pasig City), Rex Gatchalian (Valenzuela City 1st District), Harris Christopher Ongchuan (Northern Samar 2nd Dist.) and Rufus Rodriguez (Cagayan de Oro City 2nd Dist.), respectively.

The authors urged for the passage of the measure to ease the severe shortage of mental health professionals in the basic education system, and properly address the emotional, psychological and mental health well-being of both learners and teachers, especially in the aftermath of the pandemic.

Under HB 6574, a Mental Health and Well-being Office, under the administration and supervision of the Department of Education (DepEd), shall be established in every schools division throughout the country to address the mental, emotional and developmental needs of learners and personnel of the DepEd.

It also mandates the hiring and deployment of mental health professionals within five years from the effectivity of this Act, such that each public elementary and secondary school, vocational institution and offices in the central, regional and school division governance levels of the DepEd shall have mental health professionals or mental health service providers.

The Mental Health and Well-being Office at the schools division level shall be headed by a qualified Mental Health Professional with the position of Guidance Services Specialist V with Salary Grade 24.

To lure more mental health professionals in the basic education system, HB 6574 also provides for the hiring of a sufficient number of mental health professionals with salary grades not lower than Salary Grade 16, including guidance associates and psychometricians at the entry level of Salary Grade 11.

The measure, likewise, allows public schools to hire graduates with relevant background in psychology or similar fields, who may not yet qualify as mental health professionals, to provide school-based mental health services, provided that they undergo training on capacity building as determined by the DepEd.

These shall be supervised by qualified mental health professionals within the schools division level in their provision of mental health services, provided further that they meet the relevant qualifications and are licensed as mental health professionals within three years from their date of hiring.

The measure mandates the DepEd, in coordination with the Department of Budget and Management, Civil Service Commission, Department of Health, and Professional Regulation Commission to sustain the well-being, competencies, professional growth and career development of mental health professionals in the DepEd.

Furthermore, mental health professionals in the DepEd shall enjoy the rights and privileges provided for in the Magna Carta for Public Health Workers, Mental Health Act and other pertinent laws.

The DepEd shall provide for sufficient resources for mental health programs and projects designed to maintain and address the mental health and well-being of learners and personnel.

The amount necessary for the implementation of this Act shall be included in the DepEd budget in the annual General Appropriations Act.

“It is time that Congress acts and Congress provides for guidance counselling for both our teachers and our learners,” Romulo said in his sponsorship speech.

“That is one of our duties and obligations in order to ensure that our teachers and learners are protected in our DepEd schools,” the chair of the House committee on Basic Education and culture said. (PNA)