Background to the Study
Mental health behaviour is about how people think, feel, act and react to issues. People with good mental health tend to have positive attitude, feel good about themselves and others, act responsively in relationships, have positive attitude towards things and react reasonably to issues. Good mental health enables every one including children to develop resilience to cope with pain, disappointments and sadness, while poor mental health affects children’s ability to concentrate at school, home and even makes it more difficult for them to learn, communicate and get along with others (Tidyman 2005).
It is very easy to overlook the value of mental health in children until problems surface. Yet from early childhood until death, mental health is the spring board of thinking and communication skills, learning, emotional growth and self esteem. Success in school, at work, in parenting and in relationships all rest on a foundation of good mental health. (Tidyman 2005).
Contrary to popular belief, young children can and do experience serious emotional problems that are comparable in severity to what we observe in older children and adults and can have lasting effects (Aggarwal 2003). And in most cases the foundations of many mental health problems that endure throughout adulthood are established early in life due to significant adversity in early life that can change the architecture of the developing brain and increase the likelihood of significant mental health problems that may emerge either early or years later. Also life circumstances associated with family stress such as persistent poverty, threatening neighborhoods and very poor child care conditions raise the risk of serious mental health problems and undermine healthy functioning in early years. Early childhood adversity of this kind also increases the risk of adult health and mental health problems because of its enduring effects on the body and brain development.
Aggarwal (2003) identified common characteristics of a mentally healthy person as including having adaptable and resilient mind, conscious control of life, cheerful and optimistic outlook, well regulated instincts and habits, emotional balance, insight into one’s own conduct, enthusiasm and reasonable freedom, capacity to think independently, calm and good temperament, ability to care for self and others, socially adaptable, realistic imagination and definite philosophy of life. Also Layman (2002) also delineated characteristics of a mentally healthy person to include having peace of mind, relative freedom from tension and anxiety, security, a sense of self worth and ability to deal constructively with reality, ability to enjoy human contacts, capacity for mutual satisfaction in social relationships, integration around socially useful values, flexibility and appropriate balance between self-sufficiency, willingness to accept help from others, capacity to give and receive affection and ability to direct hostile feelings into creative and constructive channels. Furthermore, the individual has the ability to accept frustrations for future gain, spontaneity and capacity to enjoy life.
Good mental health is important to everyone across life span. In children, if mental health is ignored, problem may occur and this can interfere with their learning, development, relationships and physical health (National Association of School Psychology 2006). To attain optimum mental health, it is important that one observes good mental attitudes right from childhood. Just as observing good personal hygiene boosts good health, practice of good mental behaviour is necessary for good health.
Nnaka (1997) noted that good mental health is important for any child to succeed in school; therefore they deserve to learn all the tasks and behaviour that will allow them to develop friendship, loving alliance and positive mental health status.
Mental health is not simply the absence of mental illness, but having the skills necessary to cope with life’s challenges (NASP 2006). (WHO 2001) also defined mental health as a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, cope with normal stresses of life, work productively and fruitfully and is able to make meaningful contributions to his or her community.
Positive mental health status is of utmost importance in overall mental well being which is reflected in peace of mind, ability to give and receive love, freedom from anxiety, sense of security, sense of self worth and the ability to deal constructively with reality (Layman 2002). This means that a person should enjoy human contacts, have mutual satisfaction in social relationship, be flexible and be able to balance work and play, willing to accept help from others, give and receive affection, and the ability to direct hostile feelings into creative or constructive channels.
But it has been observed by the researcher that in recent times children are very restive and their restiveness has resulted in wanton attitude that are detrimental to health and well-being. It has also been observed by the researcher that poor mental attitude has led to school problems such as poor academic performance, truancy and school dropout. This has posed a lot of questions as to whether the children are responsible for such behaviors or whether they are not properly understood and cared for by homes, schools and society.
According to Ladd (2000) children who do not have basic level of social competence by the age of 6 years may have problem with relationships in adult life. Also poor interaction with others may lead to poor mental health, low academic achievement and other school difficulties (Katz and Maclellan 1997). This has made it more and more imperative for children to be understood from the point of view of those elements that make for good mental health that should be properly inculcated in them through enhancement of positive mental health practice. So as to prevent poor mental health and maladjustment in later life, because as noted by (Deserlais 1995), poor mental health is common among people with relative social disadvantages, and the primary school has a mixture of these children.
Broverman (1995) also commented that gender is influential in determining the standards of mental health in children. Thus gender, school type and educational level of the mothers or child rearers may differ regarding children’s mental health status.
It is important to study the mental health status of primary school children especially now that mental health promotion has become an integral part of public health (WHO 2001). Again adequate exposure to positive mental health practices will enhance good mental health status which are necessary for the children to be responsible learners as well as being able to achieve maximally from school programmes and grow up to be responsible adults that the society will require in future, as well as avert the burden of mental illness. Because analysis has shown that in Britain alone an estimated 180,000 are affected with mental illness. (Beers.2002). According to Mind (2003), in U.S. 2 out of 4 persons would experience a mental problem at one point or the other in life. Here in Nigeria, one would wonder if about the same number would not suffer from mental problem. Primary school children can equally be affected leading to disruption of functioning at home and in school. This, according to Carnona (2003), could result in school failure, family conflicts, drug abuse, violence and suicide. To overcome these, assessment of mental health status in children becomes imperative as the children require optimum level of good mental health to be able to cope with life stresses. Assessment will reveal mental health status of children and prescribe intervention studies or strategies where necessary.
Statement of the Problem
Despite the importance of positive, good mental health to overall well-being of children, it has been observed by the researcher that children over the years tend to behave irrationally, aggressively and in some cases exhibit negative behaviour and attitudes towards issues. For instance, it is common with children to show all forms of disobedience to their parents, teachers and other adults. Many primary school children also get themselves involved in one negative activity or the other such as fighting, bearing malice and grudges against each other, and many find it difficult to forgive each other when they are wronged. Many young children tend to be very heady and stubborn. In many cases, it has been observed that children take offence when rebuked by parents or adults when they do something wrong and others sulk when corrected. Apart from these, the rate of juvenile delinquency is increasing in schools and in the society. It is commonplace to see children who are supposed to be in the school during school hours strolling on the streets and when they are corrected, they take offence and even abused the person who dared to correct them. These days, school teachers and parents also complain a lot about inability to keep children under check, because some children are too heady to be controlled by their teachers and parents. Some children even threaten teachers and when a teacher disciplines a child, the child brings parents to deal with the teacher. These same children will grow in the process of time and go into different careers, nursing being one. A child who grows into adulthood with unresolved mental health problem will not feature well in his or her educational pursuit or career. A trained nurse is expected to be one with soundness of mind and balanced judgment. Anything short of this will affect his or her relationship with clients and patients care.
Based on the above foregoing, it is necessary that children’s mental health status be assessed in order to generate a baseline data regarding their mental health, because if children’s mental health problems are not attended to appropriately, emotional difficulties that emerge early in life can become more serious disorders overtime. Early prevention strategies and efforts to identify and treat emergent mental health problems are likely to be more particularly beneficial and cost effective than trying to treat emotional difficulties after they become more serious at later age.
Having observed that children receive more services through school than any other public places, the present study was designed to assess the mental health status of primary school children. To the researcher’s knowledge, no such study has been carried out in Nigeria. The findings therefore will provide a baseline data for planning intervention programme on mental health promotion activities for primary school children in Nigeria.
Purpose of the Study
The purpose of this study is to assess the mental health status of primary school children in Enugu East Local Government Area.
Specific objectives of the study
The specific objectives of the study are:
- To identify mental health behaviours of primary school children.
- To determine gender differences in mental health status of primary school children.
- To determine if difference exist in the mental health status of children of mothers with formal education and those with no formal education.
- To ascertain any differences in the mental health status of children in rural and urban primary schools.
Some research questions were asked to adequately guide the researcher. These include:
- What are the mental health behaviours of primary school children?
- What is the difference in the mental health status of male and female children?
- Are there any differences in the mental health status of children whose mothers had formal education and those without formal education?
- What is the difference in mental health status of children in rural and those in urban primary schools?
- There is no significant difference in the mental health status of male and female respondents.
- There is no significant difference in the mental health status of children of mothers who had formal education and those with no formal education.
- There is no significant difference in the mental health status of children in rural schools and those in urban school.
Significance of the study
The findings of this study will be of immense benefit to children as it sought to assess mental health status in primary school children. It is important to do this because it will help to reveal their mental health status and the behaviours which need to be modified as well as the ones that will be reinforced. Being a preliminary study, the work only sought to reveal the mental health status and not to improve on them. Rather any intervention to be given will depend on the findings of the study.
Finally the findings will also update the volume of literature on children’s mental health status in our society.
Scope of the Study
The study is delimited to primary schools in Enugu East Local Government Area of Enugu State. Only Government owned primary schools located in both rural and urban communities were used. The choice of only the government schools was based on the fact that they have homogenous regulations governing them than schools owned by the Federal Government, religious organization, and private individuals.
Operational Definition of Terms
Mental Health: When an individual is in a state of well-being in which he/she is able to realize own abilities, cope with the normal stresses of life, work productively and fruitfully.
Mental Health status: This refers to feelings, attitudes, thoughts, preferences, predispositions, actions, and responses regarding self, others , issues and the environment as measured by the level of agreement or disagreement with the items on the mental health assessment questionnaire (MHAQ) with the following sub-scales: happiness, attitude, behavior, thinking, language and stress management.