Understanding the mental health landscape in Scotland

Facts and figures on the mental health of children in Scotland.

In Scotland, the Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Well-being Scale (WEMWBS) is one method used to assess the population’s mental wellbeing. People in Scotland take part in this survey and their wellbeing is then ranked on a scale of 14 to 70, with a higher score meaning higher levels of wellbeing. The average wellbeing score for adults in Scotland is 49.8.

However, this relatively high wellbeing score doesn’t mean that poor mental health isn’t an issue in Scotland. Between 2012 and 2015, 15% of adults in Scotland reported symptoms of a mental health condition.

Children’s mental health in Scotland

The WEMWBS is only used for young people aged 13 and above, so it is difficult to get a clear picture of children’s mental wellbeing in Scotland.

This 2013 report from the Scottish Public Health Observatory is the most recent systematic assessment of mental health and its contextual factors for children and young people in Scotland.

There isn’t much more recent data available, but there are some key indicators that can give an idea of the scale of the problem.

  • Referrals to services: The number of children being referred to specialist services increased by 22% between 2013/14 and 2017/18.
  • NHS spending: Between 2013/14 and 2016/17, published NHS spending on children and young people's mental health increased by 11.9%.
  • Strengths and difficulties questionnaire: in 2015, 14% of children aged 4-12 had ‘borderline or abnormal’ difficulty scores on the SDQ. This has decreased from 17% in 2003. Find out more about the SDQ.

The government response

Mental health of children and young people has been a key focus for the Scottish government in recent years. Getting It Right For Every Child (GIRFEC) is the national approach to children’s mental health in Scotland, which has been used across the country since 2006.

In 2018, the Children and Young People’s Mental Health Task Force was set up, tasked with improving mental health services for children across the country. They have made recommendations including focusing on a whole-systems approach to mental health, and putting the voices of children at the centre of policy and programme change.

What affects the mental health of children in Scotland?

There are many different causes of poor mental health in children. These reasons can be complex – there may not be one specific cause of poor mental health, but a combination of contributory factors. You can find out more about risks to children’s mental health in the risks and protective factors section of this website.

Although the risks to children’s mental health are complex, there may be some risks that are more common in Scotland. These could be:

  • Economic inequality: Almost one in four (230,000) of Scotland’s children are officially recognised as living in poverty. Research has shown that children living in low income households are more likely to suffer mental health problems.
  • Rural: 95% of Scotland is classed as ‘rural or accessible rural’, with over 1 million people living in a rural location. Living in a rural location may present challenges to mental health, including isolation, loneliness and a difficulty in accessing support and services. The Scottish Highlands has a higher suicide rate than the Scottish average.
  • Access to services: waiting times for access to CAHMS is a problem in Scotland. Only two-thirds of children are seen by a specialist within 18 weeks of referral, with more than 1 in 5 children having their referral for treatment rejected.

Find out more

For more information and statistics about mental health in Scotland, take a look at the Mental Health Foundation’s Fundamental Facts report.

 The Scottish Association for Mental Health’s Going To Be report includes useful data and information about young people’s mental health in Scotland.


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