When we started organizing the protection of the mental health of school children in Croatia, the opinion arose that mental pathology at that age was neither so widespread nor so significant that it should be given a certain advantage in solving students’ health problems. We knew from experience that there are many individuals among school children of both sexes who need psychological and psychiatric help.
However, this had to be proven in order to justify the establishment of counseling centers for psychohygiene at dispensaries for school children and youth, as well as the training of staff to work in these counseling centers. So we decided to examine how many students there are among school children who show any mental disorders. As a measure of the mental health of our respondents, we took the presence or absence of any symptoms of behavioral disorders.
Prevalence of Behavioral Disorders
This form of mental disorders can occur in a child independently, without other mental disorders, or it is obligatory to follow other mental disorders. In other words – a child with behavioral disorders does not have to show other disorders, but neurotic, mentally retarded, mentally ill or psychotic children always show some behavioral disorders, at least as a side symptom.
Therefore, the absence of any behavioral disorder is a reliable indicator that we have a mentally healthy child in front of us. We decided, therefore, to conduct a survey that would show us the frequency of behavioral disorders among school children.
We started from the fact that the child’s behavior is an expression of his attitude towards the environment in which he lives as well as his reactions to the actions of the educator towards him. If the child’s psyche is slightly damaged, then his behavior is more negative the greater the psychological burdens to which we expose him. For a school child, school is the biggest burden, and it is also a task that the child struggles with for many years, almost continuously and systematically.
Therefore, it is very likely that the child will show some disturbances in his attitude towards school if he has any difficulties in overcoming life problems. It will show some behavioral disturbance in school even when it does not show it in any other area of its relationships with people. That is why we took the behavior of children in school as a measure of their mental health.
Data Collection and Analysis
Data on the behavior of a number of primary school students were collected by surveying their teachers. We did this in the school year 1960/61, in the narrower area of Zagreb – the capital of Croatia, and in 12 cities in the province. In order to be able to compare the data on mental disorders in urban children with those in rural children, we performed in the school year 1962/63. equal examination in the area of one rural municipality.
The sample included in the cities 25,600 children and in the village 2,407 children. Data processing showed that more than half of our respondents – both in the city and in the countryside – show disturbances in their behavior at school, which means that they do not develop mentally in a completely healthy way.
Therefore, mental disorders in school-age children are very common, just a mass occurrence. It can side with the most massive physical health disorders in school children, such as poor posture, spinal and foot deformities, or dental caries.
Therefore, we can determine with certainty that the disturbances in the mental life of school children are among the most important health problems of that part of the population. They are a typical social disease, both in terms of their causes and consequences, and in terms of the possibilities for their prevention and elimination.