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




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