Mental health and loneliness in Scottish schools: A multilevel analysis of data from the health behaviour in school-aged children study

Claire Goodfellow*, Malachi Willis, Joanna Inchley, Kalpa Kharicha, Alastair H. Leyland, Pamela Qualter, Sharon A Simpson, Emily Long

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to specialist publicationArticle

1 Citation (Scopus)


Adolescent loneliness and poor mental health represent dual public health concerns. Yet, associations between loneliness and mental health, and critically, how these associations vary in school settings are less understood.
Framed by social-ecological theory, we aimed to identify key predictors of adolescent mental health and examine school-level variation in the relationship between loneliness and mental health.
Cross-sectional data on adolescents from the 2018 wave of the Health Behaviour in School-aged Children study (HBSC) in Scotland were used (N = 5286).
Mental health was measured as a composite variable containing items assessing nervousness, irritability, sleep difficulties and feeling low. Loneliness was measured via a single item assessing how often adolescents felt ‘left out’. Multilevel models were used to identify social-ecological predictors of mental health, associations with loneliness and between-school variation.
Loneliness, as well as demographic, social and school factors, was found to be associated with mental health. Mental health varied across schools, with the between-school difference greater among adolescents with high levels of loneliness. Additionally, the negative effect of loneliness on mental health was stronger in schools with lower average mental health scores.
The findings suggest that schools can play an important role in shaping adolescent mental health. Our study uniquely identifies that school-based interventions targeting mental health may be especially necessary among lonely adolescents, and programmes aimed at tackling loneliness may be more beneficial in schools with poorer mental health.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages18
Specialist publicationBritish Journal of Educational Psychology
PublisherJohn Wiley & Sons, Inc
Publication statusPublished - 23 Jan 2023


  • adolescence
  • Loneliness
  • multilevel modeling
  • School mental health


Dive into the research topics of 'Mental health and loneliness in Scottish schools: A multilevel analysis of data from the health behaviour in school-aged children study'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this