Emotional Health and Wellbeing in Young People into 2019

SHEU have just released a report, taking the emotional temperature of young people across the country.

Some of the findings confirm what may have been suspected about a decline in their wellbeing, while other findings are new and surprising -- for example, that the self-esteem of young people in secondary schools appears to decline during the first half of the school year.

If you are interested in carrying out a similar survey in your Council or your school, please get in touch.


This report summarises recent findings from large samples of young people surveyed in schools from local authorities across England between 1997 and 2018, with an in-depth analysis of the samples from 2017-18. The pupils were from Year 4 (8-9yo), Year 6 (10-11yo), Year 8 (12-13yo) and Year 10 (14-15yo).

Headline Findings

  • Boys had significantly higher self-esteem than girls; this difference becomes more marked as children get older. 32% of boys in Year 4 had high self-esteem in 2018; this compares with 28% of girls in Year 4, 47% of boys in Year 10, and 29% of girls in Year 10. Scores for primary pupils are higher than ever.
  • Pupils report decreasing levels of satisfaction as they get older, with the gap for girls widening more than for boys (74% of boys/75% of girls in Year 4 drops in Year 10 to 62% and 48%, respectively).
  • Girls worry significantly more than boys, particularly as age increases. The biggest differences are for issues including school-work, family and the way they look.
  • Family was the most common source of support or information for most topics.
  • When young people have a problem or feel stressed, they often listen to music, but also report talking to family and thinking on their own. 6% of older females report self-harm when stressed.
  • Boys feel more at ease when meeting people of their own age than girls.
  • The oldest girls (Year 10, 14-15yo) score less well than all other groups for self-esteem, resilience, worrying (for any topic and multiple topics), satisfaction with life and social confidence; girls’ scores on well-being scales are not much difference to those of those of boys of the same age.


  • Worrying about school-work increased among all groups since 2002, especially among 14-15yo girls.
  • Self-esteem seems stable or improving in the primary phase, but self-esteem among 14-15 yo girls has declined in the last decade.
  • Satisfaction with life has declined among secondary-age pupils since 2013, and especially among the 14-15yo girls.

Annual cycles

  • Over the course of the school year, from September to July, there appears to be an overall fall in self-esteem of secondary pupils from Sept-Feb, a rise in fear of bullying Sept-July, and a rise in worry about schoolwork or exams Sept-July. These changes are not age-related, as we can see Y10 pupils' self-esteem is not lower than that in Y8.


  • Lower self-esteem is associated with less happiness with their weight, with lower likelihood of exercising, of eating a ‘proper’ breakfast (of a drink and something substantial to eat), a lower likelihood of getting 8 hours’ sleep, and is strongly associated with the experience of and fear of bullying.
  • Looking at computer games, media and Internet use, the highest levels of use are associated with lower self-esteem and wellbeing, while there is some evidence that moderate levels of phone and Internet use are linked with the highest levels of wellbeing. High levels of homework are also associated with poorer wellbeing.
  • Low self-esteem is associated with increased use of cannabis, while high self-esteem is linked with lower use. We have previously reported this type of association for alcohol.

Trends in associations

  • High self-esteem was formerly associated with increased use of alcohol and cannabis, but in the last decade low self-esteem has been associated with increased use of both substances, while high self-esteem is linked with lower use – the reverse of the previous pattern.


Comments about SHEU

"Thank you from my staff to you and all your staff. The speed of 'turn-around' of the questionnaires is outstanding in anyone's terms." Headteacher


"You have often stood alone against the media who were often looking for the sensational headline. I have noticed an important change: the media now look out for and report very fairly and fully on the reports from the team." 
Tributes from a Health Education Advisor to John Balding, presented at his retirement lunch, May 2005

Health Education Advisor

"The Schools Health Education Unit has gained a reputation as one of the most reliable sources of information about young people's health." BBC


"The Schools Health Education Unit has been a unique inspiration to all of us. For me, as I have worked in the many different areas of the NHS, the SHEU, its principles and your determination have always been a cornerstone in what a health promoting service should be about."
PCT Performance Manager paying tribute to John Balding, presented at his retirement lunch, May 2005

PCT Performance Manager

(Our) Senior team were very enthused with the rich source of data provided within the reports (and thought that the analyses including within the appendices section of the main reports were really interesting).

Health Improvement Specialist (Children, Schools and Families)

"Thanks for presenting the survey to local schools this morning, I just wanted to thank you for such interesting and thought-provoking information.  
I’m really glad we were able to take part - the information (particularly headline data and differences) will support us to have some really interesting questions with the Year group as a whole about the sense they’re making of this; what they think it might mean in terms of changes they might make, and what they need to support them in this."

Deputy Headteacher

"We did this last year with Year 8 and 10 and was incredibly useful. It is WELL worth doing and so useful to inform PSHE planning. The safeguarding audit team were delighted that we had done it. The findings are so so interesting.
"The findings are really comprehensive and range from what percentage of year 8 have breakfast in the morning to how many have tried this particular drug, to identity, health and sleep patterns, mental health, citizenship issues....
"It's essential for the PSHE and pastoral curriculum."

PSHCEE coordinator

"Many thanks for all of the fantastic information that you have sent to me over the years, it has really helped me to plan relevant courses for my students to follow and to help me to focus on the needs of the students I teach."

PSHE teacher

I think the HRBQ is an absolutely wonderful, informative tool and I am keen to really encourage schools/other relevant partners (as appropriate) to utilise this invaluable data to encourage voice of the child, and subsequently contribute to shaping priorities and services.

Senior Health Improvement Practitioner (Children and Young People)

"I really think that the HRBQ is a wonderful piece of work in terms of getting useful information for so many different organisations in one go." Healthy Children's Research and Statistics Officer

Research and Statistics Officer