Scots mental health levels lower than before pandemic

The director of the research said the findings reveal 'worsening wellbeing in the wake of the pandemic'.

Scots mental health levels lower than before pandemic, new research reveals iStock

The mental wellbeing of people in Scotland was lower last year than before the pandemic, falling to its lowest recorded level, according to research.

Average wellbeing for adults in 2021, measured using the Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale (WEMWBS), was 48.6 which was down from 49.8 in 2019.

This followed a decade in which levels had remained fairly constant and was the lowest level recorded in the Scottish Health Survey since it began tracking wellbeing in 2008.

Adult mean WEMWBS scores varied by age last year and were highest for those aged 65 and above, and lowest for those aged 25 to 34.

The survey, which questioned 4,557 adults and 1,600 children, also found that in 2021, just over two in ten (22%) adults had a GHQ-12 score of four or more (indicating a possible psychiatric disorder), an increase from 2019 when it was 17%.

In 2021, prevalence of depression, anxiety and attempted suicide among adults were at similar levels to 2018/2019 combined, however, prevalence of having self-harmed increased over this period.

Depression, anxiety, attempted suicide and having self-harmed were found to be more common in the most deprived areas last year.

The survey, published by the Scottish Centre for Social Research (ScotCen) and the Scottish Government, also covers topics including diet and food insecurity, obesity, physical activity, smoking, alcohol, drugs and gambling.

Victoria Wilson, research director at the Scottish Centre for Social Research (ScotCen), said: “This important annual survey makes a major contribution to understanding and monitoring the health of people in Scotland.

“This year, the survey reveals worsening wellbeing in the wake of the pandemic. It also highlights the extent to which certain groups in society – especially single parents and younger, single adults – were facing food insecurity even before the current rising cost of living.

“In terms of longer trends, this year’s survey highlights how online gambling has gradually become more prevalent in Scotland over the past decade, while smoking has continued to become less common, reaching its lowest level on record.”

The survey also found that more adults (69%) met the moderate or vigorous physical activity guidelines last year than in previous years, continuing the general upwards trend since 2012 when it was 62%.

However, last year, 30% of adults were obese, similar to or marginally higher than rates in each year since 2008 when levels have ranged from 27% to 29%.

Meanwhile, among children, the proportion in the healthy weight range dropped by 4%, from 68% in 2019 to 64% in 2021, the lowest the survey has recorded since 1998.

The survey noted that as heights and weights were self-reported in the 2021 survey and not adjusted, it is not clear whether this represents a genuine change or is due to the way the data was collected.

Almost one in five children were considered at risk of obesity in 2021.

The survey also found that almost one in ten adults (9%) reported having experienced food insecurity in terms of having worried that they would run out of food due to lack of money or resources during the previous 12 months. This was the same proportion as in 2019.

Almost half of adults (47%) reported that they were living with a long-term condition, the same proportion as in 2019.

The report found that the prevalence of smoking among adults continued to fall to 11% in 2021, down from 28% in 2003, while prevalence of hazardous or harmful weekly alcohol consumption has dropped from 34% in 2003 to 23% in 2021.

Dr Pavan Srireddy, policy lead and consultant psychiatrist at the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Scotland, said: “These stark findings are deeply worrying. We know that living through two years of a pandemic had a detrimental impact on people’s mental wellbeing but now we find ourselves living through a cost-of living crisis.

“The Scottish Government must let it be known how they propose to manage an already tight mental health budget – one which will have to stretch even further to keep pace with soaring inflation and meet increased mental health need within the population.

“We need to make sure our mental health services are maintained and protected so we can see these trends start to reverse in the future.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Through a £21m investment in 2021/22 in our Communities Mental Health and Wellbeing Fund for adults, we have funded over 1,800 awards to community projects focused on prevention and early intervention and we are providing a further £15m in 2022/23.

“In May 2022 we launched Mind to Mind, a new website to build on the success of Clear Your Head mental wellbeing campaign, which ran throughout the pandemic. This website provides people with practical hints, tips and resources to look after their mental wellbeing and focuses on themes such as anxiety, bereavement and money worries.”

STV News is now on WhatsApp

Get all the latest news from around the country

Follow STV News
Follow STV News on WhatsApp

Scan the QR code on your mobile device for all the latest news from around the country

WhatsApp channel QR Code