'God would have us avail ourselves of every means of cultivating and strengthening our intellectual powers."—"Fundamentals of Christian Education," p. 165.
The need of attention to the principles of mental hygiene is indicated by the prevailing high incidence of mental breakdown. In the United States, about one person in ten will, during his lifetime, develop some form of mental illness which will incapacitate him either temporarily or permanently. (W. J. Ellis, "The Handicapped Child.") Not all these mental illnesses will be of such a nature as to cause the victim to be institutionalized, but it is estimated that one out of every twenty-five children who enter school in the United States and Canada will eventually be admitted to a mental hospital—a larger number than will finish college. (Wm. S. Sadler, "Theory and Practice of Psychiatry.")
Causes of Mental III Health
It must be admitted that either heredity or environment may exert an influence in the production of mental ill health. Any hereditary influence which reduces the inherent vitality of a child, predisposes to mental illness. This would include not only those traits which are transmitted from parent to child in harmony with the accepted laws of genetics, but also the effects upon posterity of venereal disease and of such poisons as alcohol and tobacco.
Perhaps the largest group of mental illnesses result from environmental factors. Most environmental influences which threaten mental health become active during the period of childhood and thus center around the home. Those homes which are unfavorable to proper development of the child are : (a) the home in which father and mother disagree, (b) the home with defective discipline, (c) the bereaved home, (d) the poverty-stricken home, (e) the indulgent home, (f)the home with elderly parents, and (g) the broken home which is said to account for forty to fifty per cent of social catastrophies. Many forms of maladjustment arise in early school life. One very potent cause of a difficult adjustment to school life results from sending the child to school at too early an age. The results of a premature school life may take the form of faulty posture, poor vision, stuttering, or nervous instability.
There are also many factors whieh may easily threaten the mental health of an adult. These factors include an awareness of insecurity, confused motives, thwarting of desires, grief following bereavement, severe illness, extreme disappointment, emotional conflict, or a troubled conscience, difficult adjustment to an unattractive vocation, to marriage, or to the first child. Needless to say the anxieties, uncertainties, and unnatural home environment of war introduce very undesirable stress factors. ("The Neuroses in War," edited by Emanuel Miller.)
The following instruction pertains to students in school as well as those older individuals who find it necessary to live a somewhat sedentary life:
"The brain is the citadel of the being. Wrong physical habits affect the brain, and prevent the attainment of that which the students desire,—a good mental discipline. Unless the youth are versed in the science of how to care for the body as well as for the mind, they will not be successful students. Study is not the principal cause of breakdown of the mental powers. The main cause is improper diet, irregular meals, a lack of physical exercise, and careless inattention in other respects to the laws of health. When we do all that we can to preserve the health, then we can ask God in faith to bless our efforts."—"Counsels to Teachers," p. 299.
Early Symptoms of Mental Ill Health
Inasmuch as the years of childhood offer the best opportunity for preventing mental illness (the golden period for mental hygiene), it is profitable to focus attention on those early symptoms which suggest a predisposition in this direction., Such symptoms may appear as early as four rears of age. They are so common among children as to rank second only to dental abnormalities. It is of course true that many children overcome these symptoms without developing frank cases of mental illness. However, in the interest of the child's future it is wise to recognize such symptoms as unfounded fears, extreme shyness, tantrums, speech difficulties, irregularities in eating habits, and enuresis, so that therapeutic measures may be instituted at the earliest possible moment.
Prevention of Mental Illness
In the Home. The home above all else should provide the security which the child's developing personality craves. This implies that the parents should not only provide the necessities of life, but a refuge from perplexities that the child encounters outside the home. This is not intended to mean that the parents should always take the child's part, but rather that they should be so compatible with the child that the child will confide his various problems and welcome sympathetic suggestions.
Parents must be cautious lest they make so many demands of the child that his immature personality will become perplexed, with the result that he loses all desire to co-operate. Demands upon the child should be few but consistently enforced to the intent that the child will obediently respect the demands made by his parents. The child has a right to expect his parents to be consistent in their demands and their examples. Never should a parent betray the child's confidence by ridiculing any of his confidential statements or of his requests for counsel.
There are times when it becomes necessary for a parent to punish a child. Punishment should never be executed while the parent is in a state of emotional tension, for this gives the child the impression that the parent is giving vent to his own anger. Punishment should be deliberate, and when the child is old enough, should be explained as constituting an object lesson that disobedience does not pay.
Parents should endeavor to cultivate and develop the child's will and judgment. This implies that they should avoid both extremes—dominating the child's every action or permitting the child to dominate the home. Only as a child has been trained to make decisions properly and meet perplexing situations while still under the parental roof, will he be able to conduct himself wisely when away from home influence.
In harmony with the thought of providing a refuge for the child, parents should endeavor to make the home as attractive as possible, not only by its physical appointments, but also by insisting on harmony among all members of the family. Mealtime particularly should be a pleasant occasion where all anxieties and perplexities are banned from the conversation.
In the School. The first concern of par. ents and teachers should be the physical health of the child. With a physical handicap a child is not able to accomplish satisfactory schoolwork ; hence, even at the risk of missing a few weeks or months of school, a child's health should be given first consideration.
Many children who have difficulty in their schoolwork are handicapped because of some obscure physical difficulty, such as faulty eyesight or hearing. In attempting to improve the adjustment of a given child to his school program, it is proper to request both a thorough physical examination and a battery of intelligence tests.
Intelligence tests are many times unsatisfactory, and no single test should be taken as an absolute criterion of the student's scholastic possibilities. However, when several intelligence tests have been properly administered, the average result should give a fairly safe basis for determining whether the child is properly placed in school.
Some parents make the mistake of urging their children to attempt schoolwork at a more rapid rate than that provided by the average school curriculum. Unless it has been positively proved by psychological examination that a child belongs in the genius class, it is a mistake to advance him beyond the grade recommended for children of his age. Those children who are "pushed" in school usually develop some form of maladjustment (mental ill-health) during the years of adolescence or early adulthood.
(To be concluded in November)