Senate OKs bill creating new ‘mental health specialist’ positions in schools 

Cristina Chi - Philstar.com
Senate OKs bill creating new �mental health specialist� positions in schools 
File photo of students taking online classes.
The STAR Miguel De Guzman, file

MANILA, Philippines – The Senate has unanimously approved on final reading a bill that creates new “mental health specialist” positions in the Department of Education to address the perennial shortage of guidance counselors in schools.

In Senate Bill 2200 or the Basic Education Mental Health and Well-Being Promotion Act, DepEd will have new plantilla positions for “Mental Health Specialists” and “Mental Health Associates” and grant them a salary grade higher than that of guidance counselors and psychologists. 

The proposed measure also converts all guidance counselors and psychologist positions to the Mental Health Specialists plantilla position along with the adjustment of their corresponding salary grades.

In particular, SB 2200 adjusts the compensation of the existing plantilla positions of Guidance Counselors I to III and Psychologists I to III to Salary Grades 16, 18 and 20, as their positions are converted to Mental Health Specialists I to III. 

DepEd’s mental health professionals can also be promoted to Mental Health Specialists IV and V with Salary Grades 22 and 24, respectively, “to ensure their career progression,” Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian, author of the measure, said in his sponsorship speech for the bill in May.

“The creation of the new positions under the law will pave the way to hire and capacitate competent personnel… geared towards promoting and ensuring the mental health and well-being of all learners,” Gatchalian said.

“By creating more positions, we can guarantee that our learners have access to mental health services they need,” he added.

Gatchalian previously pointed out that as of July 2022, there were only 1,192 filled positions for both guidance counselors and coordinators within the DepEd.

For the current school year, at least 26 million students are enrolled in public and private schools, translating to a ratio of about one guidance counselor for every 21,667 students.

DepEd Assistant Secretary Dexter Galban said in a House hearing in February that "one of the biggest issues” in the state of mental health in schools is the lack of guidance counselors that can handle the total number of students enrolled, he added.

“The ideal ratio (globally) is 1:250. We’re stretching it here in the Philippines to 1:500,” Galban said.

RELATED: Lack of guidance counselors hampers prevention of student suicides 

Guidance counselors are the sole mental health professionals tasked with providing students with mental health support under DepEd. However, DepEd has perennially struggled to hire enough guidance counselors in schools due to the imposition of stringent requirements — a four-year Master's degree — paired with an entry-level salary of Salary Grade 11. 

SG 11 is the lowest salary given to first-time employees in government, making guidance counselors one of the lowest paid in the school system

Care centers 

One of the “cornerstones” of the recently approved measure is the establishment of a “Care Center” in every public school, Gatchalian added.

In the proposed measure, all public schools will have a physical facility that will provide students with mental health support and a crisis response and referral system, among others.  

DepEd data shows that around 404 students died by suicide in 2021 while 2,147 attempted it.

Care Centers are also mandated to provide “adequate aftercare support by other appropriate agencies, institutions, organizations, or professionals.”

“The Centers are further mandated to improve the mental health awareness and literacy of teaching and non-teaching personnel,” Gatchalian said.

SB 2200 also covers out-of-school children in special cases that include learners with disabilities or conditions, indigenous peoples, children in conflict with the law, learners in emergency situations, and other marginalized sectors.

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