Mental health of elementary schoolchildren

iStock_000016837201_ExtraSmallThe Journal of School Health reports on a survey of teachers and administrators in a large Colorado school district. In response to a questionnaire, school personnel in 79 elementary schools in Jefferson County reported their perceptions of their students’ mental health.

Jefferson County has a predominantly white(95%), middle-class population. The purpose of this survey was to determine the teachers’ opinions of their students’ mental health needs. No attempt was made by Goodwin, Goodwin and Cantrell to evaluate the children themselves.

Teachers’ perceptions of students’ mental health

The school district defined mental health as a “positive self-image, healthy peer and adult relationships and school skills and competencies.” A variety of questions concerning all three areas was included on the questionnaire. Educators were also asked to note other behavioral or emotional concerns, possible causes and to propose solutions.

Behaviors cited most frequently by teachers include:

-have poor self-image, make negative self-statements

-have poor decision-making, problem solving skills

-are unable to resolve interpersonal conflicts

-have low self-confidence, avoid the difficult

-are depressed, unhappy

-are disobedient, disrespectful, stubborn

-lack motivation

Almost 40% of the educators polled believed mental health problems to be definitely increasing, while another 355 said they were probably increasing. Only 5% thought problems were probably decreasing. .

Family life seen as cause

Most frequently, teachers indicated that the reason for these increasing problems was unstable homes. Family and home life factors, such as divorce, single parents, poor parenting, economic problems, high mobility, low valuing of education, poor role models and child abuse/neglect were judged by 78% as contributing to mental health problems of the children in their classes.

Although most educators in this study view home life as the primary cause of mental health problems, about 35% saw the need for schools to help solve these problems. Others suggested parent education programs.

Caution must be used in assessing the results of this study. It must be remembered that these are the perceptions and opinions of educators and do not claim to represent the actual incidence or nature of mental health problems among the children in this district.

Nevertheless, this study sends a clear message: educators, even in a relatively homogeneous and economically sound community, are concerned about their school children’s mental health needs; needs which they feel are not currently being addressed by schools or communities.

Journal of School Health Volume 58 Number 7 pp. 282.

Published in ERN November/December 1988 Volume 1 Number 1

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