Time trends in adolescent well-being

Are adolescent mental health problems on the rise in the UK? If so, is this happening everywhere, or is there something specific about the UK? What might be driving these trends? What are the policy and practice implications?

In 2001 we funded a research team at the Institute of Psychiatry to undertake a project on time trends in adolescent mental health. Researchers analysed data from national surveys undertaken in 1974, 1986 and 1999, looking at trends in the same kinds of problems in UK adolescents over the whole 25 year period. The focus of the study was 15-16 year olds at each time point. The results, published in 2004, showed that the mental health of adolescents in the UK declined overall across this period. Children in their teens in the 1990s were more likely to show a range of difficulties than those in their teens in the mid 1970s.

The results of this research was summarised in a briefing paper by the Programme Head, Dr Ann Hagell. The full results were published in Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry in November 2004.

In 2009, we published new research looking at the changes in adolescent mental health between 1999, when the previous study ended, and 2004. 

The researchers found that the overall level of teenage mental health problems is no longer on the increase and may even be in decline. There had been no change in the amount of emotional problems such as anxiety or depression between 1999 and 2004 (these problems rose by 70% in the preceding 25 years from 1974 to 1999). 

Although teenage mental health problems did not increase between 1999 and 2004, the dramatic rise in these problems prior to 1999 means that today’s teenagers are still more likely to experience emotional and conduct problems than teenagers in the 1970s and 1980s.

The results of this research were summarised in a briefing paper by Dr Ann Hagell published in December 2009.

Project details



First research study (published 2004)

Professor Barbara Maughan, King's College London

Dr Stephan Collishaw, Cardiff University

Professor Robert Goodman, King's College London

Professor Andrew Pickles, University of Manchester


Second research study (published 2009)

Professor Barbara Maughan, King's College London

Dr Stephan Collishaw, Cardiff University



Briefing papers

Time trends in adolescent well-being: Update December 2009, Dr Ann Hagell, Nuffield Foundation 2009

Download briefing paper (PDF)

Time trends in adolescent well-being, Dr Ann Hagell, Nuffield Foundation 2004

Download briefing paper (PDF)

Journal articles

Collishaw S, Maughan B, Natarajan L, Pickles A (2010) 'Trends in adolescent emotional problems in England: a comparison of two national cohorts twenty years apart.' J Child Psychol Psychiatry , Volume 51 , 8, pp.885-894

Collishaw S. (2009) 'Trends in Adolescent Depression: A Review of the Evidence.' ACAMH Occasional Papers No 28, pp 7-18 

Schepman et al, Do changes in parent mental health explain trends in youth emotional problems’, Social Science & Medicine, Volume 73, Issue 2, July 2011

Maughan B, Collishaw S, Metzer H and Goodman R (2008) 'Recent trends in UK child and adolescent mental health'. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol. 43(4):305-10

Collishaw S, Pickles A, Natarajan L and Maughan B (2007) '20-year trends in depression and anxiety in England'. Poster paper presented at the International Society for Research in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Conference, London, 21 June 2007  

Maughan B, Iervolino AC, Collishaw S (2005) 'Time trends in child and adolescent mental disorders.' Curr Opin Psychiatry. 18: 381-5 

Collishaw S, Maughan B, Goodman R and Pickles A (2004) 'Time trends in adolescent mental health'. J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 45(8):1350-62