From February 2017, information about the work of the MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, University of Glasgow is available and updated on the University of Glasgow website.

Mental Disorder (Psychiatry)

There has been considerable interest in the development of standard psychiatric instruments for use in psychiatric epidemiology.  One of these, a self-administered, computerized, voice version of the Diagnostic Interview Schedule for Children (Voice-DISC)  was incorporated into the third wave of the 11 to 16/16+ study at age 15, and subsequently used again at 18.  It was also used in selected secondary schools in the PaLS study.  The Voice-DISC produces DSM-IV diagnoses which, at age 15, referred to anxiety disorder, depressive disorder, eating disorder, behaviour disorders (including ADHD and conduct disorder) and substance (nicotine, alcohol, cannabis and other drugs) abuse and dependence. 

At age 15, around 1 in 5 of the 11 to 16/16+ study participants met the criteria for any disorder, which increased to almost 1 in 3 when substance abuse/dependence were included.  Anxiety disorders and conduct disorders were the most common, the former being more prevalent among females, the latter more prevalent among males.  Using comparable criteria for impairment, the prevalence of disorder was very similar to that in other British studies based on multiple informants, suggesting that a private computerized interview for single informants may to some extent compensate for the absence of additional reports by other informants. 

Data from the PaLS study was used to explore the association between levels of cortisol (a biological measure of stress) and common psychiatric disorders and symptoms (measured using Voice-DISC). There were no associations, apart from a relationship between cortisol and conduct disorder. However this differed for males (those with ‘pure’ conduct symptoms had lower cortisol) compared with females (those with a mixture of conduct and depressive symptoms had higher cortisol).  This suggests that in addition to gender, co-morbidity is an important factor to take into account in understanding the link between cortisol and psychiatric symptoms and disorder.  Another analysis found that with only one exception, there was no relationship between the experience of traumatic events (such as witnessing a death, or being attacked or beaten) and cortisol.  The exception was that cortisol was higher among females who reported being threatened with a weapon, but lower in males, a difference suggesting that the link between antisocial behaviour and cortisol operates differently for each gender.  
A PhD project conducted qualitative interviews with young people with and without ‘conduct disorder' (as identified from Voice-DISC) in order to explore what ‘behaving badly' meant to them.  The predominant view, as expressed both generally and in accounts relating to their own experience, was that such behaviour was normal, purposeful and adaptive to particular social contexts rather than being seen as expressive of mental distress.  Their interpretations were much more consistent with sociological than psychiatric perspectives on antisocial behaviour, providing further evidence that the diagnostic category ‘conduct disorder' is a problematic one for Psychiatry.



Sweeting H, Young R, West P. GHQ increases among Scottish 15 year olds 1987-2006. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology 2009;44:579-86

pubmed  open access  


Harvey D. Behaving badly: psychiatric and sociological perspectives on young people with 'conduct disorder' [PhD], MRC Social and Public Health Sciences Unit 2006.

open access  


West P, Sweeting H, Der G, Barton J, Lucas C. Voice-DISC identified DSM-IV disorders among 15 year olds in the West of Scotland. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry 2003;42:941-949



West P, Sweeting H, Der G. The Voice DISC: a method for ascertaining psychiatric diagnoses in young people in the community. MRC Social and Public Health Science Unit Occasional Paper no. 4, Glasgow, 2000

Former Staff


  • ADHD

    Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

  • Cortisol

    Cortisol is a hormone that is involved in the response to stress; it increases blood pressure and blood sugar levels and suppresses the immune system.  Changes in serum cortisol levels have been observed in connection with clinical depression, psychological distress, and such physiological stressors as hypoglycaemia, illness, fever and physical exertion.

  • DSM-IV The 4th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association.  It identifies the criteria for a diagnosis of all known mental disorders.
  • Psychiatric epidemiology

    The study of the causes and distribution of psychiatric disorder in populations (see Epidemiology)

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