By CNN Philippines Staff, February 21, 2023; CNN Philippines

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 21) — Lawmakers on Monday slammed government agencies for the lack of unified plan for implementing the Mental Health Act, which Congress passed into law in 2018.

The House Committee on the Welfare of Children called for a briefing of agencies mandated to implement the Mental Health Act following reports about the rising suicide cases among school children.

During the briefing, Marikina 2nd District Representative Stella Quimbo asked the Department of Health’s (DOH) Disease Prevention and Control Bureau to elaborate its plans for the implementation of the five-year-old mental health law.

“I am so alarmed and disappointed,” Quimbo said after learning that there is no concrete plan.

According to the Department of Education (DepEd), there were 404 student suicides and 2,147 attempts recorded in school year 2021-2022, and these were equivalent to an average of 40 suicides and 214 attempts per month over 10 months.

The Children’s Welfare Council, on the other hand, reported that among minors between the ages of 5 and 15, 10% to 15% have mental health problems.

Moreover, the result of the University of the Philippines Population Institute’s Young Adult Fertility and Sexuality study in 2021 shows that at least one in five students have attempted to commit suicide.

Quimbo pointed out that there should be a plan to train “everyone” as a study shows that 25% of all individuals experiencing mental health crisis reach out to their peers instead of seeking help from mental health professionals.

She suggested that there should be a hotline number that minors will easily remember such as 7-11, which she said is similar to the United States’ 9-11 emergency number.

She also pointed out that while government agencies have mental health programs, there is no unified plan.

“Ang problema, parang fragmented ang efforts ng mga agencies,” Quimbo said.

“I’m a little bit lost because parang kanya-kanya ‘yung efforts, so hindi tuloy natin ma-monitor,” she added.

[Translation: The problem, it seems like the agencies’ efforts are fragmented. I’m a little bit lost because it seems that the efforts are fragmented which is why we cannot monitor it.]

Meanwhile, Gabriela party-list Rep. Arlene Brosas questioned the slow progress of the National Council for Mental Health (NCMH), a multi-agency council created by the Mental Health Act.

“Pre-pandemic pa ‘yun eh ‘di ba? Maiintindihan ko kung pandemic times nagkakahirapan na tayo sa istruktura at paano ang programa, but it was in [2018]. So, hindi natin maintindihan bakit wala tayong report sa mga programa at mental health services mula [2018] hanggang ngayon,” Brosas said.

[Translation: That was created pre-pandemic, right? I would understand if it was during the pandemic when we had a hard time determining the structure and functions of the program, but it was in 2018. So, I don’t understand why we don’t have reports on the programs and mental health services since 2018.]

Disease Prevention and Control Bureau Director Nikka Hao said the NCMH is beginning to implement its programs.

“We’re piloting some of these changes in the program, to have more tangible outputs in succeeding hearings,” she explained.

“Rest assured po na priority naman po namin siya dito sa DOH (Rest assured that it is our priority here in the DOH). We had a few months and years lang po trying to set up what these systems will have to look like,” she added.