World mental health day: an annual cycle in pupils’ self-esteem? #WorldMentalHealthDay

For World Mental Health Day 2019, SHEU offer this preview of a finding from their forthcoming report, Emotional Wellbeing in Young People into 2019, to be released later this year.

Every year, SHEU carry out healthy lifestyle surveys with young people for local authorities, and these surveys involve tens of thousands of young people. At the end of each calendar year, we put all the results from all the surveys together, and publish a report.  These reports contain findings from over 100 health-related behaviour questions using answers from pupils in primary and secondary schools. They tell us about what they do at home, at school, and with their friends. SHEU have published 33 annual reports since 1986.

We have recently aggregated findings from across the last two decades of work with schools and local authorities and believe we have found something interesting and important. 


Annual cycle of self-esteem scores

Figure 1. Percentage of young people scoring in the high brackets of self-esteem scores, by year and sex and month of completion, 2001-2018 (N= 267,546)


Over the last two decades, the proportion of secondary pupils scoring in the high bracket of self-esteem scores was highest in September, and the figure for each month then declines until February.  There is a bump upwards in March (Spring? the clocks going forward?), but figures then seem to decline again towards the Summer.  This pattern seems to apply to Year 8 and Year 10, and to males and females in each year group, and the differences over the seasons are statistically significant.

This is not an age-related decline, as the September Year 10 figures for males and females are similar to the September Year 8 figures; any decline by July seems to have recovered by September the following year, and we might guess that Year 9 pupils show just the same pattern.  This strongly implies that the Summer holiday is good for young people’s self-esteem; going to school, not so much.

This could be an artefact of other secular changes – for example, if pupils’ self-esteem is declining over the last two decades, and if surveys get done later in the year over the same period, then we might see the same pattern.  But we checked by looking at the larger single-year samples, and see very much the same pattern, although the month-by-month ‘wobble’ is greater.


Dr David Regis, Research Manager, SHEU Tel.(01392) 667272 or Contact form




Comments about SHEU

"Just to say a huge thank you for all your efforts in helping us with the Health survey amongst pupils. It has provided us with significant data which will be used across the school to help us improve. It helped us to obtain a healthy schools standard as well. I hope we can make this an annual feature as we can track the changing health of our pupils." Headteacher


"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

"Our use of the Health-Related Behaviour Questionnaire was commended as part of our accreditation for the National Healthy Schools Scheme." Headteacher

"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

"We use the data to inform whole school practice: Pastoral programmes for target groups of pupils; Items for discussion with School Council; Information to help us achieve the Healthy School gold standard; To develop and dicuss with pupils our Anti-Bullying Policy; Targeted whole class sessions with the Police Community Support Officers; To share pupil perceptions of all aspects of their school life with parents, staff and governers." 

Learning Mentor

"The Unit produces an invaluable body of knowledge... providing exceptional information across time and throughout the country." Kelloggs


"We have never consulted our young people like this before. The survey makes a great contribution to our 'best value' planning." Sports Development Officer

Sports Development Officer

"Over the last twenty years you have achieved much. The surveys and subsequent reports have painted the clearest picture we have of what young people are doing and what they think." Tribute from OFSTED to John Balding, presented at his retirement lunch, May 2005


"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

Thank you for following up with schools the comments that caused concern. It is very sad to hear that some of our children have these thoughts and feelings and I am so grateful that you were able to make the schools aware of this so that they can attempt to offer some support.

This is another reason why I am so pleased that we have been able to work with you to offer this survey.

Health and Wellbeing Adviser