The National Youth Congress on Mental Health 2017: Committee of Mental Health in Schools

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(Photo/s courtesy of the National Youth Congress on Mental Health Official Group & individuals’ respective Facebook accounts.)

Last October 14-15, the Youth for Mental Health Coalition recently conducted the very first National Youth Congress on Mental Health at the City State Tower Hotel at Mabini Street, Ermita, Manila.

With the help of the Department of Health, the organizing committee aims to gather delegates from all around the Philippines to end the stigma and resolve problems related to mental health in the country by creating bills/resolutions. The idea of having a national mental health law is so close to happening. Advocates from Luzon to Visayas gather in their respective committees to push their best efforts into guaranteeing only their best interests to create a stigma-free community.

The committees range from mental health in workplaces, public health, gender and mental health, schools, health professionals, social media and substance abuse. Each committee aims to create solutions for that specific aspect/area, relating each solution with the social issues happening today.

The committee of mental health in schools went through parliamentary procedures, resolution constructions, and debating. Delegates each passionately conversed on how to improve the resolution. Ideas were free-flowing and the two days of discussion were rich in bright and positive visualizations that could potentially become a reality in our nation.

The chair, main board and other delegates share their experience on the said event as well as their road to becoming part of the solution on mental health.

BETTINA BUAN: Rapporteur 
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How old are you and where are you from? Where did you finish college/are studying?

I’m 18 going 19 in December. I live in Rizal, but when asked, I sometimes like to say I’m from everywhere. I’m mostly in Manila though because I study there. I’m a BS Biochemistry student in UP Manila, though I’m itching to shift out and pursue something in the social sciences instead.

When did you start you advocacy for mental health? What made you interested with it?

Towards the end of my last year of high school in Assumption, my mental health wasn’t in the very best condition. I’ve always been very open to people who worked in the guidance office in my school, so that’s where I went when I knew what I was feeling is beyond my control. I got lucky because the people there were very understanding and they had a lot of helpful advice. I know that’s not always the case in schools.

Nung medyo nacontrol yung issues ko a few months later, I realized I had a lot of peers who were experiencing the same thing but didn’t have the courage to go and seek help. I went off to UP Manila a year later to find the same situation. People were very vocal about their issues online, but help isn’t very accessible. We have access to services, sure, but from what I heard, the people you have to encounter before you get to avail of those services can be very triggering.

So the advocacy started with that, really: the realization that there’s really a need for awareness. Kasi kung walang awareness, if we don’t know that mental health issues exist, then walang push to improve the quality and accessibility of our mental health services.
How was your experience as a rapporteur in the congress? What were your high points and struggles? What made it an overall memorable experience for you?

I like to consider myself organized so initially I thought it was going to be easy. But when you’re a rapporteur kasi you have to really listen and process what they’re saying quickly in order to get the gist for the journal, but I tend to zone out and lose track of what people are saying so that was a challenge for me. There were delegates in my committee who were very helpful when it came to editing the journal after the session, so that made it a lot easier.

Another struggle for me was on the technical side naman. Before the committee sessions, my laptop wouldn’t turn on so I had to do the journal of the first day on a tablet. It was very difficult kasi you can’t really multitask effectively. I had to edit the reso and journal at the same time. I managed naman but I had more to edit after the session so the journal and the resolution can be posted before midnight for the delegates. After the committee sessions, my laptop turned on ulit. Sad ng timing. Haha.

The high point and also the most memorable, I think, was when our committee resolution passed the plenary. I felt that even though technically I’m just filling out the journal and incorporating amendments into the final resolution, we played a little part in the passage of the resolution in the plenary too. It was the moderating board’s victory, too, especially because for me, personally, mental health in the school setting is where my mental health advocacy started. (Getting to work with people from PMC again was also a high!)

The committee had teachers, mental health professionals, and students so there were a lot of different perspectives. The passion each delegate had for the cause was very inspiring. For me, after the congress, I was more hopeful that soon, hopefully, mental health services not only in our schools but in the whole country talaga will be accessible. 


What made you join this congress? What made you passionate about mental health in schools?
I am a registered nurse and Mental health is one of the more stigmatized and neglected areas of health care.
How was your experience as a delegate? How were the sessions and discussions?
As a youth formation coordinator in DepEd, I learned that young people are facing all sorts of trauma and mental health issues, and too frequently they slip through the cracks. The education system shouldn’t be just about the academics. It should be about approaching children from a holistic point of view. No one can do it alone. It was nice. The congress was the right venue to voice out our concerns for mental health.
It has been my great privilege to be chosen as one of those delegates to create a resolution pushing forth the concerns pertaining to mental health in. Schools. I have seen great potential in our committee and saw how great minds convened for a common advocacy.

A resolution requesting the Philippine Congress to enact a law mandating an Institutional Council for Mental Health (ICMH) in all public and private schools in the Philippines. The resolution has been passed with a 154-36 vote.


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What is your position in the committee? How was it? How long did it take you to plan and prepare for this event?

[I was the] Vice Chair on Committee on Mental Health in Schools. It was rewarding to be trusted to hold such position given that this is the first ever parliamentary program for young people on mental health. I was tapped by one of the organizers about two weeks prior the program. I had a background with parliamentary procedures at the National Youth Parliament and Philippine Model Congress so I did not prepare that much. As a preparation, I went through the primer and attended meetings with the organizers prior the program.

Why are you an advocate of mental health in schools? Do you have any prior experience that contributed to your advocacy?

As an educator myself, I am aware that there are students who are in needed of experts to look on their mental health status and to offer services to them. There are students who get to be suicidal, who seem to be depressed, etc. and they need to properly be diagnosed and be treated. Basically with my students. I give them an advise. I listen to their stories. I make them feel that they are not alone, that I am with them.

Would you continue participating in events like these in the future? What made the NYC memorable for you?

Yes, it would be such a great experience to participate to programs like this. When I realized there are people who would always be there to listen, that mental health issues are not rare cases, that thought of suicidal are common among us and so therefore we need to always be open and to reach out.


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How were the processes and sessions during the two days in the congress?

As a mental health practitioner, we were not thought on how parliamentary procedures must proceed; however, the desire in our heart to look for solutions to the existing challenges of the mental health situation in the country prevails.

I may say I was impressed on how the flow of the 2 days program was structured. The activity was opened with the key note speakers: Dr Carolina Uno Rayco, Program Director of the Philippine Mental Health Association with her talk on overview of status on mental health followed by the keynote speech of Asec. Dr. Maria Francia Laxamana of the Department of Health.

The afternoon session (first day) was devoted for lobbying and crafting of the resolutions of the different committee. Everyone participated, everyone shared their thoughts and opinions. Appeals and amendments were also observed.  I may say, my co participants would agree to me that it was a highly intense experience.

The second day was started by Honorable Representative Roa- Puno with her talk on the Philippine Mental Health Bill, specifically the version of the House of Representatives.

And the rest of the morning session was devoted for polishing of the resolution as there were still few amendments as well as encouragement to support the resolution was observed.

Voting procedures were conducted in the afternoon for the different committee resolutions. It was fulfilling that the resolution we made and crafted for Mental Health Committee in School was passed. To hear the different resolutions from different committee was also an amazing experience for a first timer like me. Unfortunately one resolution lobbied by the Committee on Gender and Mental Health didn’t pass which cause some misunderstanding through social media. Nevertheless, it was still a successful event!

The program was closed through the panel discussion about mental health from four speakers.

We wanted the delegates to engage in healthy discussions revolving around mental health and they did. Doing so allows people to be more knowledgeable on mental health and well-being – keeping the advocacy (mental health) in the light and not hidden in the shadows anymore.

What were the most important things you’ve learned after these two days?

I learned the reality of the current status of mental health in the Philippines, especially when I met different delegates from the different fields of mental health who shared their personal concerns and battles toward mental health. Quoted from  Honorable Representative Roa- Puno, “Nahuhuli na tayo pero hindi pa huli ang lahat”, and I agreed. The two days activities served as a proof that something great can be done so that we will not be left behind. This activity served as a flat form for youth advocates to plan and create a resolution towards mental health. It was very experiential. I learned that if youth will work as one, then our voice can be heard towards addressing the numerous concerns on mental health.

TALYN CONDINO: Organizing Committee Member 
How were the processes and sessions during the two days in the congress?

I believe the sessions went as how we desired it to be. The delegates were able to identify pressing issues relevant to the central theme of their committee and were able to formulate resolutions just in time for the plenary. We wanted the delegates to engage in healthy discussions revolving around mental health and they did. Doing so allows people to be more knowledgeable on mental health and well-being – keeping the advocacy (mental health) in the light and not hidden in the shadows anymore.
What were the most important things you’ve learned after these two days?
Just as what I’ve always believed in, I was reaffirmed that the youth can really contribute valuable inputs to nation building. In the two-day Congress, we’ve witnessed great minds convening to create solutions that will answer to the cry of our fellow Filipino in need. This is what drives us to do more with fellow youth. The youth may be regarded as the future of our motherland but I personally believe we can start the work now.

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