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.

Psychological Morbidity (Distress)

Several measures of psychological morbidity were employed in the studies of young people, the most widely used from age 15 upwards being the General Health Questionnaire (GHQ) which provides a measure of ‘psychological distress'. 

Rates of psychological distress were generally high and, consistent with the literature, higher at all ages among females than males.  These rates increased among females, but not males, between 1987 and 1999, possibly due to increased educational pressures combined with more traditional pressures to conform to a socially desirable female identity.  Between 1999 and 2006, rates increased for both males and females.

Analyses designed to identify explanations for increases in psychological distress between 1987 and 2006 focused on key areas of social change over this time period, categorised as economic, family, educational, values and lifestyle.  The factors which best accounted for the increase in mean GHQ were arguments with parents, school disengagement, worry about school and, for females, worry about family relationships.  These results were consistent with the conclusions of others in highlighting the role of family and educational factors as plausible explanations for increases in young peoples psychological distress. 
In general, there was little evidence of social class differences in psychological distress, although in the later (11 to 16/16+ study) cohort, rates were higher among middle-class females.  By contrast, in the earlier (Twenty-07 study) cohort, at age 18 psychological distress was most marked among the unemployed who also reported higher rates of suicidal ideation than either students or those in work.  Other factors linked to higher levels of psychological distress, low self-esteem and low mood were the experience of family conflict, victimisation and gender atypical behaviour.  Interestingly, while worries about weight were strongly related to lower self-esteem, there was little or no relationship with obesity as measured by BMI.   




West P, Sweeting H, Young R, Kelly S. The relative importance of family socioeconomic status and school-based peer hierarchies for morning cortisol in youth: an exploratory study. Social Science & Medicine 2010;70:1246-53

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West P, Sweeting H, Young R. Transition matters: pupils' experiences of the primary-secondary school transition in the West of Scotland and consequences for well-being and attainment. Research Papers in Education 2010;25:21-50

open access  

Young R. Trauma, attempted suicide and morning cortisol in a community sample of adolescents. Journal of Traumatic Stress 2010;23:288–291

open access  


Glendinning A, West P. Young people's mental health in context: comparing life in the city and small communities in Siberia. Social Science & Medicine 2007;65:1180-1191



Sweeting H, Young R, West P, Der G. Peer victimization and depression in early-mid adolescence: A longitudinal study. British Journal of Educational Psychology 2006;76:577-594



Sweeting H, Wright C, Minnis H. Psychosocial correlates of obesity, 'slimming down' and 'becoming obese' in adolescence. Journal of Adolescent Health 2005;37:409.e9 - 409.e17



Young R, Sweeting H. Adolescent bullying, relationships, psychological well-being, and gender-atypical behavior: a gender diagnosticity approach. Sex Roles 2004;50:525-537

open access  


West P, Sweeting H. Fifteen, female and stressed: changing patterns of psychological distress over time. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 2003;44:399-411



West P, Sweeting H. Nae job, nae future: young people and health in a context of unemployment. Health & Social Care in the Community 1996;4:50-62


Ford G, Ecob R, Hunt K, Macintyre S, West P. Patterns of class inequality in health through the lifespan: class gradients at 15, 35 and 55 years in the West of Scotland. Social Science & Medicine 1994;39:1037-1050

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West P, Macintyre S, Annandale E, Hunt K. Social class and health in youth: findings from the West of Scotland Twenty-07 Study. Social Science & Medicine 1990;30:665-673

pubmed  open access  

Project Staff

Former Staff


  • BMI Body Mass Index
  • General Health Questionnaire (GHQ)

    A standard screening device for identifying minor (non-psychotic) psychiatric disorder, often referred to as ‘psychological distress'.

  • Social mobility

    Refers to change in an individual's social class position (upward or downward) either between their own and their parents' social class (inter-generational mobility) or over the course of their working career (intra-generational mobility)

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