Press Release
October 18, 2023

Bong Go advocates for amplified mental health initiatives; highlights urgent need for enhanced interventions and sufficient budgetary allocations

Senator Christopher "Bong" Go stressed in an interview on Tuesday, October 17, the critical need for mental health interventions and sufficient budgetary allocations for related programs given the challenges faced by Filipinos in the aftermath of the pandemic.

"According to the World Health Organization, 16% of Filipino children had mental disorders... about 404 learners from public schools committed suicide in 2021, and 2,147 learners attempted suicide," Go said in response to questions regarding the significance of providing substantial mental health interventions to Filipinos.

The senator expressed his concern over the reduction in the proposed mental health budget from P1.9 billion in the 2023 General Appropriations Act to only a proposed P683 million for the following year which he hopes the Senate will be able to increase once they start plenary deliberations on the 2024 budget.

"Nabigla tayo, dapat po'y maging proactive tayo, dapat lagi tayong handa hindi lang po sa mental health issue, kabuuan po, health in general po. Ang kalusugan ng bawat Pilipino ay katumbas po 'yan ng maayos at produktibong buhay para sa bawat Pilipino," Go said.

Go, the principal sponsor and one of the authors of Republic Act No. 11959 or the Regional Specialty Centers Act, also highlighted the approval of this legislation to bring specialty services including mental health to communities. Signed into law by President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos, Jr. on August 24, this Act signifies a significant step towards upgrading the nation's health system.

"At isisingit ko na lang po, bilang chairman ng Committee on Health, proud po akong ibalita sa inyo na aprubado na po ang Regional Specialty Centers natin... kasama na po dito 'yung mental health (specialty centers), madadagdagan pa po ito sa mga existing (Department of Health) DOH hospitals," said Go.

This Act mandates the establishment of regional specialty centers within existing DOH regional hospitals, covering various medical fields like mental health, cancer, and heart centers, thereby catering to the diversified healthcare needs of the citizenry.

Go further stressed the critical importance of healthcare investments and said, "The more we should invest in health. Iyan po ang importante ngayon."

The senator has been pushing for the passage of his proposed Senate Bill No. (SBN) 1786, aimed at mandating public higher education institutions (HEIs) to establish Mental Health Offices on the campuses. He accentuated the urgency of addressing mental health issues among young learners.

"Mayroon rin po tayong nai-file sa Senado... 'yung maglalagay po ng concerned mental health offices sa mga eskwelahan para matutukan ang mga estudyante," he said.

He added, "Napakabigat po, sabi ko nga 404 ang nag-committed suicide ang naiulat noong 2021 at 2,147 na learners attempted suicide."

If enacted into law, SB 1786 proposes Mental Health Offices to set up campus hotlines with dedicated and trained guidance counselors to provide assistance to the whole HEI community, especially the students. The bill also states that special attention shall be given to those identified to have mental health problems or conditions, especially those at risk of committing suicide.

Moroever, if approved, the Commission on Higher Education and the public HEIs, through their Mental Health Offices, shall then initiate and sustain a heightened campaign to raise the collective consciousness about mental health.

Furthermore, the measure also proposes to mandate educational institutions to raise awareness on mental health issues, identify and provide support and services for individuals at risk, and facility access by developing necessary mechanisms to further empower educational institutions in promoting the mental health and wellness of students, faculty, teaching and non-teaching staff, and other personnel.

The awareness campaign shall give special emphasis to the issues of suicide prevention, stress handling, mental health and nutrition, and guidance and counseling. The campaign shall ensure that the whole HEI community is aware of in-campus mental health services.

In addition, Go has co-authored and co-sponsored SBN 2200, known as the proposed Basic Education Mental Health and Well-Being Promotion Act, principally sponsored by Senator Win Gatchalian. This measure aims to provide comprehensive mental health support for the youth in the country's basic education system, requiring both private and public schools to integrate mental health education and support services into their curriculum.

"Bilang chairman naman ng Committee on Health, tutulong po ako sa abot ng aking makakaya na isulong pa po na madagdagan ng pondo ang ating mental health (programs)," he affirmed.

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