Confidence levels in young people are at the lowest in 28 years, according to a new report.

The Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) study, carried out every four years in partnership with the World Health Organisation (WHO), has looked at data on young people’s mental health in Scotland before and after the Covid-19 pandemic.

It found 42% of young people in Scotland reported often or always feeling confident in themselves.

Researchers from the universities of Glasgow and St Andrews surveyed 4,388 young people aged 11, 13 and 15 in Scotland in 2022, and their work was commissioned by Public Health Scotland (PHS).

Around one fifth (19%) reported feeling lonely all or most of the time in the last year, and that feeling was most common among 15-year-old girls (31%).

More than one third (35%) of youngsters reported feelings of anxiety, with higher levels among girls than boys, and over one third (35%) were classified as having either low mood or at risk of depression.

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Almost half of young people in Scotland experienced multiple health complaints every week such as feeling nervous, having difficulty sleeping, and feeling irritable, with the prevalence higher among girls than boys aged between 13 and 15.

During the pandemic, 54% of the young people surveyed said it positively affected aspects of their family life and 50% said it positively affected friendships.

Almost a third (29%) said their physical activity had been negatively affected, but 43% said it was positively affected.

Almost four in 10 young people (38%) said their mental health was negatively affected by the pandemic and just over one third (34%) said their school performance was affected.

Meanwhile, the number of young people using substances has fallen, with teenage drunkenness at the lowest level in 32 years.

However, the number of young people who have used a vape or electronic cigarette (18%) is now higher than those using cigarettes.

It is the ninth consecutive report from the WHO cross-national survey which Scotland has participated in since 1990.

The Herald:

Lead author Jo Inchley, from the social and public health sciences unit at the University of Glasgow, said: “These latest findings from HBSC provide a comprehensive picture of young people’s health across Scotland. We’ve seen significant improvements in recent years in areas such as alcohol use and lifetime cigarette smoking.

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“But at the same time, new challenges such as vaping and social media are increasingly impacting on how young people live their lives, and there are also significant mental health challenges which are likely to have been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“This report helps us to better understand the challenges young people face, recognise the broader impact of the pandemic on their lives, and look at areas where more support and investment is needed.”

Richmond Davies, head of public mental health and child public health at PHS, said: “The insight the HBSC study provides into trends in young people’s health, wellbeing and socioeconomic circumstances is invaluable and highlights the need to prevent poor mental health before it emerges.

“We have good evidence of what the drivers of mental health are, so we must not ignore opportunities to increase young people’s exposure to protective factors and reduce their exposure to, and the impact of, the factors that harm their mental health.

“Key drivers of poor mental health in young people include: poverty and economic deprivation; the availability and quality of opportunities post-school; and supportive relationships with peers, family and trusted adults in the community.”