2009 International Principals Survey – ICP and Intercamhs

International Survey of Principals Concerning Emotional and Mental Health and Well-Being

Mental Health and Well-Being in Schools: What Principals Think

School principals worldwide agree about the importance of promoting the mental and emotional health of their students and staff. Over 1,100 principals from 25 countries completed the International Survey of Principals Concerning Emotional and Mental Health and Well-Being developed by the International Alliance for Child and Adolescent Mental Health and Schools (Intercamhs) in partnership with the International Confederation of Principals (ICP). HHD is the Secretariat for Intercamhs and carried out the design, administration, and analysis of the survey which asks principals what emotional and mental health issues they see among their students and staff, and what education and training they need to respond more effectively.

According to the survey results, over 80% of principals report student emotional and mental health and well-being as “very important” to a child’s academic performance. On average, principals estimate that one in five of students requires treatment or other mental health services, a figure similar to global data.

Most children spend much of their day in a school setting, yet the psycho-social environment of many schools and the opportunities for young people to learn skills to cope with social and emotional challenges need improvement. With higher quality resources and training, school staff can also recognize student problems early on so that youth and their families are able to obtain the necessary services to reduce or prevent disorders from becoming worse.

“I am pleased to see that emotional intelligence is now being taken seriously,” expresses a principal from England who also recognizes how this benefits the community as a whole.

When asked to identify the leading mental health concerns among their school’s students, principals pointed to anxiety, depression, bullying and harassment, and anger and impulse control.  Many respondents also agreed with the view of a Canadian principal that “family dysfunctions of many kinds are often the prime factor in the resulting mental health issues of the children.”  Among staff, principals stated that stress was a chief concern, due in part to the overwhelming needs of their students, academic demands and societal changes.

The survey also revealed many continuing and cross-country challenges with existing systems and institutional support.  As one Scottish principal remarked, “We have children suffering from extreme anxiety disorders having to wait 6 weeks for an assessment or diagnosis, followed by limited follow up support.”

Principals, regardless of their level of experience, emphasized the need for training and other resources to create school environments that are more conducive to mental and emotional well-being and to identify students who might benefit from services. This points to the need for a public health approach that encourages broad mental health promotion schoolwide, not just services for students with acute problems.  As another respondent explained, “We can’t do our best job of educating students if we are always rushing to put out fire.”

Based on these findings, Intercamhs and the International Confederation of Principals are planning more professional exchange around mental health promotion in schools, and will also create new tools and web-based learning opportunities to support educators.  The survey will be extended to other countries in the months ahead.

“This is a seminal piece of work,” says Cheryl Vince Whitman, HHD’s Director and Vice President of Intercamhs. “Our partnership with ICP to carry out this work has made it possible to gain a broad global perspective. It is clear that principals want extensive training on how to effectively make their schools positive places for social and emotional learning, as well as places where it is safe and okay for problems to be recognized and addressed.”

For more information, please contact Matthew Biewener at mbiewener@edc.org. Intercamhs is an international network of agencies and individuals who believe that addressing emotional and mental well-being in schools is vitally important to all who spend time there.

January 5, 2009