Amid the observance of the World Suicide Prevention Day today, September 10, Senator Win Gatchalian is urging schools to raise awareness on suicide prevention as the COVID-19 pandemic makes learners more vulnerable to stress, anxiety, and other mental health conditions.
According to Gatchalian, it is important that mental health and psychosocial support programs train both teachers and learners on identifying behaviors linked to suicide so these can be addressed or reported to the proper authorities. Aside from capacitating teachers on the provision of psychosocial first aid and having regular counseling sessions, Gatchalian stressed that learners should be empowered to support each other through peer counseling programs.
The National Center for Mental Health (NCMH) reported a surge in suicide-related calls since the implementation of lockdown measures. From January to March 2020, the average monthly number of calls was 33, which doubled to 66 in April. The number of suicide-related calls continued surging last May when it reached 80, 112 in June, and 115 in July. As of August 15, the NCMH already received 49 suicide-related calls.
Last year, University of the Philippines College of Medicine professor emeritus Dr. Cornelio Banaag Jr, who is considered the father of child psychiatry in the Philippines, warned that young Filipinos are in the midst of a mental health crisis, which he linked to increased smartphone use and time spent online.
According to the World Health Organization’s 2015 Global School-based Student Health Survey, where 8,761 students participated, 16.8 percent of students in the Philippines aged 13-17 attempted suicide one or more times in the 12 months prior to the survey. Nearly 12 percent also seriously considered attempting suicide.
To date, there is one documented case of a learner who died of suicide because of the negative effects of COVID-19, according to the Department of Education (DepEd),
As young Filipinos experience uncertainties because of job losses in their families and the shift to distance learning, Gatchalian reiterated that giving psychosocial support to learners is more urgent than ever to prevent any more losses of life.
“Bahagi ng ating pakikipaglaban sa COVID-19 ang pangangalaga hindi lamang sa pang pisikal na pangangatawan kundi pati na sa kalusugan ng kaisipan ng ating mga kabataan, lalo na’t nananatili ang takot at kawalan ng kasiguruhan sa kapakanan ng kanilang mga pamilya, pati na rin sa usapin ng edukasyon. Mahalaga ang tungkulin ng ating mga paaralan upang bigyan ng pang-unawa at suporta ang ating mga kabataan upang hindi sila mawalan ng pag-asa,” said Gatchalian, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Basic Education, Arts and Culture.