VERIFICATION. Guidance counselors check the requirements of senior high school students at the Dasmariñas Integrated High School Main in Cavite province in this August 2022 photo. Experts say the resumption of face-to-face classes will relieve students of coronavirus-related boredom and improve their social skills. (PNA photo by Gil Calinga)

MANILA – Senator Sherwin Gatchalian will seek a salary hike for guidance counselors to help address the alarming number of suicides and attempted suicides among students.

A public hearing on Tuesday tackled Gatchalian’s Senate Bill No. 379, or the Act Strengthening the Promotion and Delivery of Mental Health Services in Basic Education Schools, filed last year.

The measure seeks to institutionalize a mental health and well-being program, prescribe the hiring and deployment of mental health professional, prescribe the creation of plantilla (permanent) positions of guidance associates in the Department of Education (DepEd) and increase the salary of guidance counselors from Salary Grade 11 (PHP27,000) to 16 (PHP39,672).

"Halos entry level ng teachers ang kanyang sweldo pero ang requirement sa guidance counselor is master's degree. So ang request ng DepEd is taasan from salary grade 11 to 16 para mas maraming pumasok na guidance counselor (Their salary is almost like the entry level for teachers but a master's degree is required. So, the DepEd's request is to increase it from Salary Grade 11 to 16 so more guidance counselors will apply)," Gatchalian said in an interview.

To fully serve all basic education students, around 47,000 guidance counselors are needed but data showed there are only 4,000, he added

For the meantime, Gatchalian proposed that teachers, both in private and public schools, should be trained on observing students who might be undergoing depression or anxiety.

For Academic Year 2021-2022, the DepEd recorded 404 students who died of suicide and 2,147 who attempted suicide in public schools alone.

Senator Lito Lapid has also filed Senate Bill No. 1795 that seeks to put up mental health and well-being offices in every school division while Senator Jinggoy Estrada’s Senate Bill No. 1508 will establish a Mental Health Office in state universities and colleges to enable students to lead fulfilling and normal lives as they venture into adulthood.

Nakakabahala itong pagtaas ng kaso ng anxiety, stress at depression hindi lang sa ating mga mag-aaral, kundi pati na rin sa ating mga teaching and non-teaching personnel (The higher cases of anxiety, stress, and depression not only in students but among teaching and non-teaching personnel is alarming),” Lapid said in a statement.

Lapid said mental health promotion and early intervention strategies may produce the greatest impact on people’s health, minimizing the impact of any potentially serious health condition.

A study of the World Health Organization released in 2021 showed that globally, one in seven 10 to 19-year-olds experiences a mental disorder, accounting for 13 percent of the burden of disease in the age group.

The same study said suicide is the fourth leading cause of death among the 15 to 29 age bracket.

According to the Department of Health, at least 3.6 million Filipinos faced mental health issues during the pandemic. (PNA)