Youth lawmaker urges Marcos to declare mental health emergency

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 2) — Kabataan Party-list Rep. Raoul Manuel is urging President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to declare a mental health emergency in the country, after it was revealed there were hundreds of student suicide cases reported in the past academic year.

In a statement Thursday, Manuel said he will file a House resolution to urge the administration to declare the emergency, as well as probe the mental health crisis.

According to figures from the Department of Education (DepEd), a total of 404 students nationwide took their own lives while 2,147 others attempted suicide during Academic Year 2021-2022.

"Crunching the data, there had been more than one student who fell victim to suicide per day while roughly one student attempted to commit suicide every four hours in the past academic year," Manuel said. "These are numbers we have never seen before."

WATCH: Survey: 17% of Filipino youth have suicidal thoughts

DepEd shared its figures during a Senate basic education committee hearing on Tuesday, where it also said the ratio of mental health professionals to students is currently at 1:13,400, far from the ideal ratio of 1:500.

"In light of this, we urge authorities to declare a mental health emergency to give way for immediate and substantial government action to ramp up budget and support for mental health professionals and services," the lawmaker said.

Manuel also urged Congress to exercise its oversight powers in checking the implementation of Republic Act No. 11036 or the "Mental Health Act."

"Higit sa pagtugon sa mental health services, di natin maitatanggi na epekto rin ito ng higit dalawang taong pagsara ng mga paaralan at ang distance o hybrid learning modality na dumoble sa load at gastusin ng mga estudyante," Manuel said.

[Translation: More than giving mental health services, we cannot deny that this is an effect of over two years of school closures and the distance or hybrid learning modality which doubled the load and expenses of students.]

"In this regard, we also need a serious review and overhaul of education policies especially the K-to-12 while we ensure 100% face-to-face classes," he added.

DepEd has said it will ensure that guidance and psycho-social services will be accessed by learners and delivered by mental health professionals in schools, with a plan to obtain higher salary grades for guidance counselors.

The Senate basic education committee, during the Tuesday hearing, said it would endorse the agency's request.

"We will as well support an increase in the DepEd's budget for that noble endeavor to save our children from frustration, anger and despair which would lead to possible suicides in the future," Senate President Migz Zubiri told CNN Philippines on Wednesday.

"We trust that the DepEd will fortify partnerships with reputable associations for mental health and psychosocial support programs in schools," Sen. Grace Poe added.

Sen. Sonny Angara, who chairs the Senate committee on youth, said they are also pushing for a measure wherein PhilHealth packages would cover therapy sessions and other mental health needs.

Sen. Chiz Escudero, meanwhile, asked the Department of Health to also consolidate data on mental health issues among workers so that the government can enact policies to address the mental health crisis as a whole.

During World Mental Health Day on Oct. 10 last year, Marcos posted on Twitter that mental health should be one of the priorities that must be discussed globally, along with climate change, poverty, and peace.

CNN Philippines correspondent Eimor Santos contributed to this report.

If you or someone you know needs assistance, the National Center for Mental Health (NCMH) crisis hotlines can be reached at 1553 (nationwide landline toll-free), 0917-899-8727, 0966-351-4518, and 0908-639-2672.