RACE Final Copy

With the alarming issues of suicide cases among youth in schools, Visayas State University (VSU) joined the Heads Up Philippines, one of the projects of the UNILAB Foundation to train new sets of Guidance Facilitators from colleges and departments on the holistic approach to addressing mental health issues in the university.

VSU, through the Office of the Dean of Students (ODS) headed by Professor Manolo B. Loreto, Jr. organized and facilitated a one-day training course against suicide on April 13, 2023, at the Center for Continuing Education (CCE) Building.

This training serves as a way to help the outnumbered registered guidance counselors in the university to practice proactive mechanisms against suicide cases.

According to Prof. Loreto, suicide is a crisis in the university. With the great number of students studying at VSU, it would be impossible to monitor the early signs and control the risk without the connection of the departments or the colleges.

“We need assistance from our academic units. That’s why we establish this college or department-based guidance facilitators [training]. We need partnerships between the academe and the non-academic units. Perhaps in this university, having you, as our guidance facilitators in your academic units, then the connection is very strong. If we need a follow-up of the students, we can directly call you out and ask for your assistance. You have a very big role. You, in the academic units, know your student well,” Prof. Loreto explained during his speech.

The VSU Head of Student Welfare and Services, Ms. Chona A. Brit, also emphasized how the faculty and staff of VSU can do so much in establishing connections with the students and ensuring their well-being while staying on campus.

“The increasing mental health concerns of the youth due to the COVID-19 pandemic are now being felt in schools with the return of in-person classes. With the lack of Guidance Counselors, there is a need to empower our faculty and staff to help us respond to their concerns and help prevent suicide in schools,” she said.

A RACE Against Suicide

The UNILAB Foundation through the Heads Up PH program is doing many mental health interventions in the Philippines. Heads Up PH is the mental health and wellbeing pillar of the UNILAB. 

One of their intervention programs is the development of a toolkit named ‘RACE Against Suicide’ which is co-developed by UNILAB and its partners in the mental health field. This toolkit is used to train guidance facilitators and assist the guidance counselors of the schools in preventing suicide.

The RACE Against Suicide is an evidence-based mental health toolkit that helps guidance facilitators in schools to be able to recognize, refer to, and assess the risk of suicide of the learners. This toolkit is exclusive only to individuals who underwent the training with the Heads Up PH and is not to be distributed to the general public.

RACE is an acronym that is used to remember the steps of the toolkit. R is for recognizing the warning signs of distress and unusual behavior; A is for assessing suicide risk using Columbia Suicide Severity Rating Scale (C-SSRS); C is to convince the learners to get help; and E is to entrust to the school counselor.

During the capability training, Ms. Mitch Amarilla-Climaco, Project Leader of Heads Up PH facilitated the delivery of the topics on the RACE Against Suicide, via Zoom meeting. She was also joined by two other co-facilitators, namely, Ms. Pauline Anne Marasigan and Ms. Kyllie Capacio.

RACE_2nd_edited.jpgCollege/Department-Based Guidance Facilitator trainees from the VSU Flagship Campus and its VITA Campuses studying the toolkit for their workshop.

VSU collaborated with the UNILAB and Heads Up PH to train representatives from the departments and colleges to become guidance facilitators that will help in contributing to the race against suicide in the university, now that full face-to-face classes are implemented.

“VSU, through the Student Welfare Services, advocates for the mental health of our students and UNILAB Foundation has the Heads Up PH program which aims to improve the mental health and well-being of young Filipinos. The partnership allows VSU to adopt the UNILAB toolkit as part of VSU’s mental health program and avail of other related training for free,” Ms. Brit explained.

The capability training was attended by participants from the different colleges and the high school department of VSU, alongside the representatives from the VITA campuses, Villaba, Isabel, Tolosa, and Alangalang.

Before the certificates were given to the participants, they were able to do the roleplay or simulation workshop that was evaluated by the guidance counselors of the university, who were already trained with the RACE Against Suicide program.

RACE_3rd_edited.jpgMs. Chona A. Brit, Head of Student Welfare and Services rated each group based on the rubrics for the simulation exercises provided in the toolkit. 

The trained guidance facilitators will use their toolkit and will be the ones to communicate with the guidance counselors of the university if there are learners who are at risk of mental health issues. 

Ms. Brit congratulated the trainees for the successful simulation workshop and discussed the major comments for further improvements. 

“This partnership and training will help break the stigma on mental health, encourage our students to seek help when needed, and foster a caring learning environment which will help formulate policies and lead to institutionalizing a program for the welfare of the students,” the Head of Student Welfare and Services concluded.

The Heads Up PH facilitator highlighted that it is okay to talk about suicide than not. Noting that witnessing someone commit suicide firsthand will put a person at risk to do the same than talking about suicide for educational purposes.


Along with Ms. Brit, Ms. Mary Ann G. Cobico, and Ms. Marwen A. Castañeda are also Registered Guidance Counselors at VSU.

[All photos are courtesy of Marianne C. Bayron]

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