Scottish Schools Adolescent Lifestyle and Substance Use Survey 2015: mental wellbeing report

Report on the mental wellbeing of adolescents in Scotland.

This document is part of a collection

1 Introduction and background

This report presents the mental wellbeing findings from the 2015 wave of the Scottish Schools Adolescent Lifestyle and Substance Use Survey. The research was commissioned by the Scottish Government and carried out by Ipsos MORI Scotland.

Survey background

The Scottish Schools Adolescent Lifestyle and Substance Use Survey ( SALSUS) is a continuation of a long established series of national surveys on smoking, drinking and drug use. These were carried out jointly in Scotland and England between 1982 and 2000, to provide a national picture of young peoples' smoking (from 1982), drinking (from 1990), and drug use (from 1998) within the context of other lifestyle, health and social factors. Since 2002, Scotland has developed its own, more tailored survey known as SALSUS.

SALSUS is foremost a survey about substance use in adolescence and the outputs are therefore focused on prevalence of smoking, drinking and drug use. However, the survey contains a wealth of information on the behaviour of young people in Scotland over the last 30 years.

This report explores one of the other topics included in SALSUS - emotional and behavioural problems and mental wellbeing. It covers trends in emotional and behavioural problems and mental wellbeing and looks at the relationship between these findings and other survey variables, specifically, the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation and variables relating to family life.

Survey purpose

SALSUS measures progress towards Scottish Government targets for smoking and drug use, and is used to inform the Scottish Government priority of addressing harmful drinking among young people.

The survey series also provides local prevalence rates for smoking, drinking and drug use across Alcohol and Drug Partnerships ( ADPs), local authorities and NHS Boards. SALSUS data are used in a number of the ADP national core indicators, which allows the ADPs to monitor their progress against a common set of outcomes. ADPs and their community planning partners make extensive use of SALSUS data in local needs assessments and in developing their strategic priorities.


SALSUS is a self-completion survey administered by teachers in a mixed ability class, under exam conditions. In the past the survey has been completed on paper, but for the first time, in the 2015 wave, half of the sample completed the survey online [5] .

A random, nationally representative sample of S2 and S4 pupils in Scottish schools was drawn with classes as the primary sampling unit. All local authority and independent schools in Scotland were eligible for inclusion in the sample, with the exception of special schools.

Fieldwork was completed between September 2015 and January 2016. A total of 13,607 S2 and 11,697 S4 pupils responded.

Throughout the report pupils in S2 are referred to as '13 year olds' and S4 pupils are referred to as '15 year olds' for ease. It should be borne in mind that some pupils within these categories may be slightly older or younger.

Some pupils did not answer each question. Where answers are missing, these have been excluded from the analysis and so charts and tables that describe the same population may have varying bases. When differences between estimates are specifically commented on in the report, these differences are statistically significant to the level of 0.05 [6] .

Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding.

For full details of the methodology, please see the SALSUS 2015 Technical Report [7] . Also see Appendix A for the full 2015 questionnaire.

Finally, it is important to note, that while there are associations between many of the indicators explored in this report, conclusions about causality cannot be drawn.

The relationship between emotional and behavioural problems, mental wellbeing and substance use was covered in the individual substance topic reports [8] and will not be repeated in this report.

Emotional and behavioural problems and mental wellbeing indicators

Emotional and behavioural problems - Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire

The 'Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire' ( SDQ) was designed by Robert Goodman (1997) [9] and is widely used by researchers, clinicians and education professionals. This measure has been included in SALSUS since 2006. The questionnaire comprises 25 items that are grouped into 5 scales, with each scale including 5 questions. The scales are:

  • emotional symptoms (5 items)
  • conduct problems (5 items)
  • hyperactivity/inattention (5 items)
  • peer relationship problems (5 items)
  • pro-social behaviour (5 items).

Information on how to score the self-completed SDQ was obtained from the website, a site referenced by Goodman et al. For each item in each of the five scales, the value of the responses 'Not true,' 'Somewhat true,' and 'Certainly true' was assigned a value from 0 to 2.

Overall scores were calculated for each of the five scales by summing the scores for all items within each scale. Total difficulties scores were also calculated as an overall measure of emotional and behavioural problems by summing the scores for emotional problems, conduct problems, hyperactivity and peer problems, but excluding scores for pro-social behaviour.

The terminology used to describe SDQ scores is borrowed from the original questionnaire designed by Goodman. The terms 'normal', 'borderline' and 'abnormal' are used to describe scores for each scale. These terms have been used throughout this report to indicate bands of scores for each scale. While the terms may seem out-dated in the context of the language used to describe mental wellbeing in today's language, they have been retained in this report to draw comparisons to previous years.

Mental Wellbeing - Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale ( WEMWBS)

The Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Well-being Scale ( WEMWBS) was developed by researchers at the Universities of Warwick and Edinburgh, with funding provided by NHS Health Scotland, to enable the measurement of mental wellbeing of adults in the UK [10] .

Since 2010, SALSUS has included WEMWBS. Developed as a tool for measuring mental wellbeing at a population level, the scale comprises 14 positively worded statements that relate to an individual's state of mental wellbeing (thoughts and feelings). Pupils were asked to indicate how often they have had such thoughts and feelings over the last two weeks. Each statement has a five item scale ranging from '1 - None of the time' to '5 - All of the time'. The lowest possible score is therefore 14 and the highest is 70.


Email: Julie Guy

Phone: 0300 244 4000 – Central Enquiry Unit

The Scottish Government
St Andrew's House
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