Pupil health and academic attainment are intertwined. Healthier pupils have higher attainment. Adolescence is a critical period for young people’s health and wellbeing. About three-quarters of all psychiatric disorders begin before age 18 but mental health research during childhood and adolescence has been relatively neglected compared to research within older age groups. Development of school-based research into mental health could help identify predictors of mental health issues in children and adolescents. Researchers from the University of Glasgow and University of St Andrews are establishing a new Scottish Schools Health and Wellbeing Improvement Research Network (SHINE) and are inviting schools to take part in its development.
We have demonstrated our capability in Glasgow for school-based mental health research, having embedded protocols to collect Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire data for thousands of schoolchildren at four different age points (Social and Emotional Education and Development, SEED trial).
In 2014 a Schools Health Research Network (SHRN) was set up in Wales to enable effective collaboration between schools, policymakers, and academic researchers, focusing on school-based health improvement research. It began with a small number of secondary schools but by 2018 all Welsh secondary schools had joined the Network. The individual school health and wellbeing data reports co-produced by schools with the Network are proving invaluable to the Welsh schools for monitoring wellbeing in the schools, targeting interventions and directing improvement planning. We are now inviting all schools to participate in a pilot for a similar Network in Scotland.
The aim of SHINE is to support improvements in health and wellbeing amongst school-aged children by building a collaboration between schools, researchers and policy-makers and establish a new mental health data platform for schools in Scotland.
This project will involve three research areas:
1) Creation of SHINE
Building on the processes employed in development of the Welsh SHRN, we will recruit schools to SHINE. Schools joining the network and taking part in the 2018 HBSC survey will be provided with feedback reports detailing school-level mental health and wellbeing, and identifying targets for intervention. For all schools who have signed up to the SHINE Network, we will be developing mini-modules on key areas of Health and Wellbeing, such as mental wellbeing, sleep and risk-taking behaviours. This will allow schools to generate their own data providing evidence for monitoring and planning purposes.
2) Development of validated mental health measures for adolescents
A validated, robust set of self-report measures of adolescent mental health is lacking – we will review existing measures and conduct validation work to produce such measures for use in the UK and internationally. We will also investigate the feasibility of collecting additional clinical samples (e.g. saliva for DNA and biomarker analyses) from some pupils.
3) Data linkage feasibility study
We will establish mechanisms for linkage of adolescents providing mental health data to a range of existing educational and health data. SHARE is a new NHS Research Scotland initiative to establish a register of people interested in participating in health research. We will investigate and trial strategies to recruit SHINE school-aged children (and their parents) to join the SHARE Register and/or to provide consent for data linkage.