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

"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

"I would like to say how much we appreciated the work you and your team have put in to this project, a big thank you for the excellent reports that you have completed on our behalf." Assistant Director of Public Health

Assistant Director of Public Health

"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

"Your work in developing the Health Related Behaviour Survey was ground breaking and has continued to evolve." Tribute from a Director of Public Health to John Balding, presented at his retirement lunch, May 2005

"This is amazing! Thank you." (school report)


"We were talking about (the SHEU survey) data at our recent NSCoPSE Conference, for PSHE advisers and consultants. It would be really helpful if some of this powerful data and the trends could be shared in the consultation around the PSHE Review. Colleagues shared their very positive experiences of (the SHEU survey). It provides excellent evidence of behaviour change for children and young people and of the impact of PSHE and wider interventions."

Personal and Social Development Consultant

 “The (SHEU survey) helped us to prioritise where we needed to be in terms of PSHE education. We delivered assemblies based on the evidence as well as curriculum development, and dealt with whole school issues – particularly in regard to pastoral care. The answers received to the question on the survey “Who are you most likely to approach if you needed help” worried staff as “teacher” was not a popular answer. Subsequently the staff asked themselves why this had happened and what needed to be done to address the issue. There was more emphasis on wider aspects of PSHE education delivery, which needed more attention.

To summarise, the (SHEU survey) allows the PSHE department to assess the impact of teaching and learning and modify future lessons accordingly. It allows our school to look at whole school issues such as the extent to which the pastoral care system is meeting the needs of our pupils. It helps us to do need analysis of our pupils. It helps to provide important evidence for SEF / the extent to which we are meeting wellbeing indicators / National Healthy School standards.”  

Secondary School Head

"The Health Related Behaviour Survey is an incredibly useful resource for (us) as it provides schools, with invaluable data which can inform curriculum content, methods of lesson delivery and empower schools to better meet the needs of their pupils."

Health Education Advisor

...our analyst here in Public Health- is beside himself with excitement about all the juicy data pouring in...he can't wait to get his hands on it!!!!
He is happier than I have seen him for years.

Public Health Principal

At the time, the results were very useful and the feedback report very useful and insightful. Significant changes will occur in our schools health and wellbeing provision next year and conducting another survey will certainly help me to ensure I am planning effectively for the needs of our pupils.

Head of Health and Wellbeing