Suzanne Marshall, Advisor at CDN, looks at Mental health and wellbeing among adolescents in Scotland: profile and trends, a recent publication from  the Scottish Government. She discovers that 15 year old girls are faring worse, in terms of emotional issues, than other groups.

One of the most important findings of this report is the striking difference in results for 15 year old girls in the last three years compared with other demographic groups. This group seems to be suffering much poorer mental health and wellbeing than the other groups, particularly in relation to emotional problems. Borderline or abnormal scores increased for this group from 28% in 2010 to 41% in 2013. In addition, in terms of overall mental health and wellbeing, there has been a 10% increase in 3 years, from 2010-2013 in the number of girls with borderline/abnormal scores.

The two key factors which emerged as key to young people’s mental health and wellbeing were:

  1. The number and nature of their friendships – those who had fewer friends had poorer mental health and wellbeing.
  2. The relationship with school – those that disliked school, felt pressured by school work, truanted on multiple occasions or had been excluded had poorer mental health and wellbeing than those who did not.

Other factors that were associated with increased prevalence of poor mental health and wellbeing included:

  • Parental knowledge of activity being below average
  • Spending 6-7 nights out a week with friends.

Variables that were linked to better mental health and wellbeing included:

  • Living with both parents
  • Expecting to go on to further study after leaving school
  • Belonging to a group or club.

A number of activities appeared to have a protective effect against poor mental health and wellbeing. Belonging to a group or club and seeing friends, doing a hobby, reading a book or playing a sport at least weekly were associated with better mental health and wellbeing. For girls, in particular, playing sport on a weekly basis was strongly related to lower levels of emotional and behavioural problems. Poorer physical health is associated with lower mental health and wellbeing. Young people who reported that they had a limiting illness or disability tended to suffer from poorer mental health and wellbeing.

Young people who had mixed or multiple ethnicity were more likely to suffer from poor mental health and wellbeing than those from other ethnicities. High levels of deprivation were also correlated with poorer mental health and wellbeing. The Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD), perceived family affluence, and receipt of Free School Meals all showed a relationship with mental health and wellbeing. There was no clear pattern in mental health and wellbeing by urban/rural classification.

Alison Johnstone MSP said:

“These are significant findings and must be investigated further. The sharp drop in emotional wellbeing of 15 year old girls in recent years is a cause for concern and we should draw on the experiences of pupils, parents and teachers to understand what is causing this and how to turn the situation around. “In general we know that good mental health and wellbeing among young people is at risk if they have fewer friends, dislike school and feel pressured. Encouraging support networks in and out of school and helping pupils play an active part in how their school is run would seem sensible steps to pursue. The finding that girls who play sport on a weekly basis have lower levels of emotional and behavioural problems underlines the need to invest in active lifestyles in and out of school. “Emotional wellbeing is just as important as physical health. Ensuring good mental health in young people helps them grow into resilient adults able to handle life’s ups and downs.”

What does it mean for us?

How should colleges respond to this as many of these young people may progress from school to college? What support structures do we need to put in place to ensure that we prioritise mental health and wellbeing and are alert to the signs of an increase in emotional and behavioural problems? Given the evidence that taking part in sport and other activities are an important part of increasing mental health and wellbeing, how can we promote extra-curricular activities within our colleges?

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