WHO report reveals UK adolescents experience mental health concerns

Published: 19 May 2020

The International Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) report compiles data on the health and social wellbeing of adolescents from 45 countries.

Published 19th May 2020

A new report, published today by the WHO Regional Office for Europe, on the health and social well-being of schoolchildren from 45 countries, including the UK, shows that adolescent mental well-being declined in many countries between 2014 and 2018.

The report from the International Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) study - led by researchers at the MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit and the School of Medicine, University of St Andrews – compiles extensive data on the health behaviours, social relationships and mental well-being of 227,441 schoolchildren aged 11, 13 and 15, from 45 countries.

The report presents the findings from the HBSC survey in countries of the European Region and Canada, which is undertaken every four years. The report will provide a baseline against which future studies can measure the impact of COVID-19 on young people’s lives. 

Beyond mental health and wellbeing, the HBSC study covers areas such as sleep habits, time spent online and physical activity, as well as school and home life. The report presents data collected from surveys conducted in schools, with all pupils in the selected classes asked to fill in the confidential questionnaire anonymously.

This is the 8th consecutive World Health Organisation (WHO) cross-national HBSC survey that Scotland, England and Wales have participated in, providing data on the health of these countries’ young people over the last 28 years.

England, Scotland and Wales are in the top third of countries for the following:

  • Preference for online communication
  • Toothbrushing
  • Drunkenness
  • Problematic social media use
  • Sleep difficulties
  • School pressure, particularly in 15 year olds

England, Scotland and Wales are in the lowest third of countries for family meals, family support, peer support, and classmate support.

Lead author of the study Dr Jo Inchley, from the MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, and HBSC International Coordinator, said: “It is worrying to see that adolescents are telling us that all is not well with their mental well-being, and we must take this message seriously, as good mental health is an essential part of healthy adolescence. 

“Although many young people in Scotland, Wales and England are generally satisfied with their lives and are less likely to be drinking and smoking or consuming sugary snacks compared with previous survey years, this study highlights a number of areas of concern. Sleep difficulties are on the rise, and we’re also seeing an increase in social and emotional difficulties such as feeling low and feeling nervous. Compared with other countries, young people in the UK are also more likely to think they are too fat. These issues particularly affect older adolescents and young people from poorer backgrounds.”

Read more about the key findings from the International HBSC report.

First published: 19 May 2020

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