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Depression, anxiety and attempted suicide in Scotland at highest level in a decade

29 September 2020 | Tags: Scottish Health Survey

Self-reported depression has risen by 50% in a decade, with self-reported anxiety, attempted suicide and self-harm also at their highest levels in ten years, according to the latest Scottish Health Survey, published today by the Scottish Centre for Social Research and the Scottish Government.

  • Women are still more likely to report anxiety, but levels are rising significantly among men.
  • 2 in 3 adults (66%) in Scotland are overweight including obesity, the highest level recorded.
  • Almost a third of children (31%) are not getting enough physical activity, the highest level recorded in over twenty years.
  • Average weekly alcohol consumption is at its lowest level since 2013.
  • 17% of adults identified as smokers in 2019, the lowest level recorded by the survey.

Mental wellbeing and loneliness

Self-reported depression and anxiety among adults in Scotland are their highest in a decade, with 12% reporting two or more symptoms of depression, up by a half from 8% in 2008/09. 14% of adults reported two or more symptoms of anxiety, compared with 9% in 2008/09.

Since the survey began, women have been more likely than men to report symptoms of anxiety. Yet while levels of anxiety for women have remained stable in recent years (15% in 2018/2019), they have increased significantly among men, up from 9% in 2016/2017 to 13% in 2018/19.

In 2018/2019, 7% of adults reported that they had attempted suicide at some point in their life, the highest rate recorded in the past decade, indicating an increasing trend. 7% of adults reported having ever self-harmed in 2018/2019, equalling the highest level previously reported (7% in 2014/2015).

While overall mental wellbeing[1] among Scottish adults remained similar to previous years, people who reported feeling lonely often or all the time had significantly lower mental wellbeing than those who said they had rarely or never felt lonely in the past two weeks (mean WEMWBS scores of 37.8 and 52.9 respectively).[2]

Loneliness was highest among young people aged 16 to 24, with young women almost twice as likely as young men to report feeling lonely often or all the time (21% and 12% respectively). Adults aged over 65 were least likely to report feeling lonely often or all the time (5-6%). Loneliness was also linked to deprivation, with people in the most deprived areas much more likely to report feeling lonely often or all the time (17% compared to 6% in the least deprived areas).

Physical activity

At 69%, the proportion of children aged 2-15 getting enough physical activity was the lowest recorded since 1998. The decrease was driven by a steep drop in activity levels among boys meeting the guidelines, down from 79% in 2016 to 71% in 2019.

Two-thirds (66%) of adults met the weekly guidelines for moderate or vigorous physical activity in 2019, and adults who did had higher mental wellbeing than those who did not (mean WEMWBS scores of 50.8 and 47.4 respectively).

Adverse childhood experiences

This year’s survey provides the first ever national population estimate on adverse childhood experiences (ACEs).

15% of adults reported four or more ACEs, with those in the most deprived areas almost twice as likely as those in the least deprived areas to report experiencing four or more ACEs (20% and 11% respectively).

Researchers found that people who report four or more ACEs are significantly more likely to have obesity, be a current smoker, have a limiting long-term health condition, have any cardiovascular disease, not meet the physical activity guidelines, have lower mental wellbeing or not have a degree-level qualification or higher.

Alcohol

The average number of units of alcohol consumed per week fell to 12.1 units in 2019, the lowest level recorded since 2013 (12.2 in 2013). Men continued to consume more units of alcohol on average per week than women (15.5 units and 8.8 units respectively).

In 2017/2019 combined, almost a fifth (17%) of children were living with at least one parent who exhibited hazardous or harmful drinking behaviour or who had a possible alcohol dependence.[3]

Food insecurity

In 2018/2019 combined, single parents were most likely to experience food insecurity. Nearly one in three (31%) single parents reported being worried they would run out of food due to a lack of money or other resources, while around one in five single parents (21%) reported eating less due to a lack of money or other resources. More than one in ten (12%) single parents reported running out of food due to a lack of money or other resources in the previous year. Overall, food insecurity remained unchanged at 9% of adults in 2019.

Obesity

Although levels have remained relatively stable over time, gradual increases since 2011 mean that 2 in 3 adults (66%) in Scotland are overweight including obesity, the highest level recorded. As in previous years, in 2019 men were more likely to be overweight including obesity than women (69% and 63% respectively).

Smoking

In 2019, 17% of people considered themselves smokers, down from 21% in 2016 and 28% in 2003. This is the lowest rate recorded by the Scottish Health Survey.

However, the gap between the richest and poorest in Scotland has continued to widen, with people in the most deprived areas now more than five times as likely to smoke (32%) than those in the least deprived areas (6%).

Joanne McLean, Research Director for the Scottish Health Survey at the Scottish Centre for Social Research, said: “With average weekly alcohol consumption now at its lowest level since 2013, we may be beginning to see signs of a positive impact of minimum pricing on alcohol. The number of smokers in Scotland is also lower than ever before.

Yet there has been little or no improvement in many other vital areas, including obesity, food insecurity and mental health. Rates of self-reported depression, anxiety and attempted suicide are now at their highest levels in a decade, with rates of anxiety rising significantly for men in recent years. Wehave also seen inequalities widening in health-related behaviours such as smoking.

A sizeable minority of adults in Scotland are feeling lonely, with loneliness among young women and people in deprived areas of particular concern given the strong association we find between loneliness and mental wellbeing.

For the first time we have nationally representative estimates on adverse childhood experiences in Scotland, which reveals the potentially negative impact of these experiences on a range of health outcomes in adulthood.

This research provides us with an accurate picture of the nation’s health, as well as compelling evidence for improving the physical and mental health and wellbeing of the nation, now more of a challenge than ever with the emergence of Covid-19.”

The 2019 Scottish Health Survey main report can be accessed here.



[1] Assessed by the Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale (WEMWBS) which is based on a questionnaire that looks at indicators such as optimism, energy and self-acceptance. The WEMWBS measures mental wellbeing on a scale from 14 (lowest) to 70 (highest).

[2] Assessed by the WEMWBS.

[3] Measured by a score of 8 or more on the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT), with ten questions summed to form a scale, from 0 to 40, of alcohol use. Scores of 8 to 15 are categorised as a medium level of alcohol problems, with increased risk of developing alcohol-related health or social problems (sometimes described as hazardous drinking behaviour).