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Using data to analyse the impact of COVID-19 on the mental health of young people

We have written previously about our use of locally-gathered mental health and wellbeing data to support our educational establishments with recovery planning.

Our initial data was gathered and analysed in June 2020 and then again in Autumn 2021. We have now collected this data for a third year and are reflecting on the trends that are emerging.

Emerging trends

While our overall parent-report ‘Total Difficulties’ scores across the age range of 5-18 remain well above published norms (in line with similar surveys carried out in other areas such as Glasgow), we are beginning to see some age-related trends which offer hope for the future.

Having shown a spike last year as the full impact of a year of lockdowns and remote learning was felt (our original data collection took place in June 2020, just three short months in to the pandemic), this year our authority average score has decreased by 5 percentage points from 61% to 56%. However, when we analyse our data by sector, this decrease is being driven by improvements in scores in our secondary and primary sectors (6.45% and 4.62% respectively), while scores for our early years population have increased by 10%.

We think that there are several possible reasons why our youngest pupils are continuing to experience more difficulties than their older counterparts:

  1. They were chronologically younger going in to the turbulent and unusual circumstances of the past two and a half years.
  2. Their skills may have been less developed prior to then undergoing significant periods of time away from social groups and formal learning opportunities.
  3. The time period also covers a greater proportion of their lives than older pupils so the relative impact is greater for them.

By contrast, we would suggest that those in our primary and secondary settings had more years of ‘typical’ experiences and better consolidated developmental skills to fall back on. In addition, they have also been able to access a greater range of services providing mental health support, including our newly developed continuum of support, funded through the Scottish Government’s Community Mental Health Supports and Services grant, which has allowed us to develop mental health supports across a range of difficulty levels, in a range of mediums from digital to face-to-face.


We have continued to see that our families recognise and value the level of support and care that our colleagues are providing to pupils, with an average of 85% feeling that their child has received the appropriate emotional support, and 88% reported to be re-engaged with learning in this years survey.

This is heartening to see after another turbulent year for those working directly with pupils. This data indicates however that the level of support required is likely to continue so establishments need to feel empowered to focus on mental health and wellbeing and activities to support the development of self-regulation skills.

As a team, we continue to explore ways to creatively and flexibly develop new services to support our children and their families, both through our case work and development activities. Locally-collected data sets such as this are key in helping educational psychology services better understand the needs of their communities so that the services they provide are matched to the needs of their population, and can demonstrate impact.

Data table for overall average SDQ scores for pre-school, primary and seconday pupils

There are also visual infographics that display this data for all groups:

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