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Sustained psychosocial support to learners needed amidst surge in suicide cases

Following the Philippine Statistics Authority’s (PSA) report that deaths related to suicide are up by 25.7 percent in 2020 compared to 2019, Senator Win Gatchalian seeks the continued provision of psychosocial support to the country’s K to 12 learners.


CABATUAN, ISABELA, Philippines – In a pre-pandemic setting, students are able to socialize, physically learn from their mentors and peers, and engage in various campus activities, as seen in this file image, 29 June 2018. But they had to bear the brunt of a yearlong school shutdown and home confinement due to the public health crisis, prompting Senator Win Gatchalian to call for psychosocial support programs both for teachers and learners to address risky behavior. Photo by Mark Cayabyab/OS WIN GATCHALIAN

According to the PSA, cases of intentional self-harm recorded in 2020 increased to 3,529 from 2,808 in 2019. The past year also saw an increase in the number of calls to the National Center for Mental Health (NCMH). From May 2019 to February 2020, the center received 400 monthly average calls, which increased to 953 calls from March to May 2020. From March 17 to October 6, 2020, the monthly average calls were 907. The monthly average calls related to suicide were 53.

Gatchalian pointed out that the country’s learners are especially vulnerable because they had to bear the brunt of a yearlong school shutdown and home confinement. Prior to the pandemic, the Filipino youth was struggling with mental health woes. A 2015 survey by the World Health Organization (WHO) showed that 16.8 percent of 8,761 student-participants aged 13-17 attempted suicide one or more times a year before the survey.

In an advocacy brief, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) warned that containment measures and school closures make children feel isolated. Among the consequences of these are anxiety and sleep problems, which are also caused by increased gadget usage, irregular eating habits, and reduced physical activity. Aside from isolation, other stressors include health-related fears and financial losses.

“Dapat nating bigyan ng prayoridad ang kapakanan at mental health ng mga kabataan, lalo na’t isang taon na nilang hindi nakakasalamuha nang personal ang kanilang mga guro at kamag-aral,”said the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Basic Education, Arts and Culture.

Gatchalian proposed that psychosocial support programs train both teachers and learners in identifying risky behavior, including those related to suicide, so they can be addressed or reported to proper authorities.

The lawmaker also pointed out that under Republic Act 11036 or the Mental Health Act, educational institutions are mandated to raise awareness on mental health issues, provide support and services for individuals at risk, and facilitate access, including referral mechanisms, to treatment and psychosocial support.