A group of Bicolano lawmakers on Tuesday proposed the creation of an inter-agency task force to handle rising cases of student suicide.
“Suicide is not a crime, as most media reports tend to portray it. It is a serious problem that must be addressed,” said Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Raymund Villafuerte in filing House Bill (HB) 2895 or the “Suicide Prevention Act.”
Villafuerte, together with co-authors fellow Camarines Sur congressmen Miguel Luis Villafuerte, Tsuyoshi Anthony Horibata, and Bicol Saro Nicolas Enciso VIII, want the Department of Education (DepEd), the Commission on Higher Education (CHED), and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) to put up an inter-agency Task Force on Student Suicides to craft and implement early intervention and prevention programs to address this alarming mental health concern.
“The government, through the DepEd, CHED and TESDA, should take steps to raise awareness of student suicide as a serious public health program,” the measure stated.
Citing a report released on this year’s World Mental Health Day last Oct. 10, Villafuerte said the University of the Philippines Population Institute (UPPI) revealed that the results of its 2021 Young Adult Fertility and Sexuality Study (YAFS5) pointed to a nearly two-fold increase from 2013 to 2021 in the number of teens and young adults from 15 to 25 years of age who had experienced “suicidal ideation.”
Suicidal ideation or thoughts is believed to be a symptom of major emotional depression or mental illness characterized by having suicidal tendencies.
LRay Villafuerte said there was a perception that mental health issues especially among the youth have apparently been aggravated by the stringent lockdowns or mobility restrictions resulting from the over two-year pandemic, which had forced students and teenagers to keep off their schools and isolate themselves in their homes instead of hanging out with their peers.
And with increasing digitalization, he said that many of the youths have also been victimized by cyberbullying, triggering emotional or psychological problems that might have prompted a number of them to think about or even try to commit suicide.
Villafuerte supported President Marcos who, in his World Mental Health Day message, said that mental health should be a global priority, along with climate change, peace and poverty.
HB 2895’s authors said the proposed interagency task force should raise awareness on student suicides as a serious public health issue; and craft programs on monitoring “suicide ideation” or suicidal thoughts among students, providing timely referrals for community-based mental health care to and treatment of students at risk of emotional disorders leading to suicide, and offering immediate support and information resources to the families and friends of students vulnerable to suicide attempts, among others.
“Filipinos committing or attempting to commit suicide are getting younger over the years,” the lawmakers said, citing a 2001 WHO Report that bared that “suicide is a leading cause of death for young adults” in 53 countries worldwide.
The bill adverted to studies showing that “more teenagers and young adults die from suicide than from a combination of cancer, heart disease, AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome), birth defects, stroke and chronic lung diseases taken together.”
“In the Philippines, unfortunately, no concrete steps have been taken to determine the causes of suicide among the Filipino youth. Psychiatrists point out that children and young adults are prone to depression which sometimes leads to suicide,” the measure said.
“This is caused by the children’s separation from their parents when the latter go to work; the restrictive, abusive, punitive, or highly critical parenting style their elders adopt; the breaking of close relationships, and the oppression of society,” it added.
Under HB 2895, the DepEd, CHED and TESDA—in coordination with the Department of Health (DOH)—are mandated to develop and implement nationwide student suicide early intervention and prevention strategies in the various schools.
The three agencies shall collect and analyze data on nationwide student suicide early intervention and prevention services that can be used to monitor the effectiveness of such services and for research, technical assistance and policy development.
They must also assist the school heads through nationwide student suicide early intervention and prevention strategies in: (1) meeting the latter’s targets for student suicide reductions; (2) the timely assessment of students who are at risk of emotional disorders possibly leading to suicide; and (3) providing timely referrals for appropriate community-based mental health care and treatment of students who are at risk of committing suicide.
The primary duties of the task force as defined by HB 2895 would be to collect information from every school head regarding incidence of student suicides; study that information and make findings, conclusions and recommendations regarding that information; and submit reports to Congress on the task force’s findings and recommendations.
Under the bill, the task forces shall collect the following information from campuses across the country; prevalence of incidents of student suicides; demographics of students who committed or attempted to commit suicide; factors that influence the decision of students to commit or attempt to commit suicide; and the circumstances surrounding student suicide, including the age, sex, time, place, manner or instrument used to commit suicide, and whether consummated, frustrated or attempted. Maricel V. Cruz