Net4Health: Assessing change across four decades of Scottish school networks and health data

Mark Mccann, Claudia Zucca, Emily Long


The prevalence of poor mental health in adolescence has increased over the last 30 years. This phenomenon may be due to changes over time in the relative importance of social influences on health, such as: peer social influence; a wider social reference group provided by digital technology; changes in the school environment; or the broader economic and social context. It is important to gain a greater understanding of the risk factors for poor mental health, to inform the development of effective health improvement interventions. The MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit has been studying adolescent friendships, social networks and health in the West of Scotland for several decades. These studies have been a rich source of information on the health needs of Scotland's younger citizens and have helped to identify how risk factors have changed over time, but to date there has been limited research looking at changes in school peer networks and health. Net4Health is a study currently in the planning phase that will provide the fourth decade of data on social networks and health in Scotland. The primary focus for this study will be social network and peer influences on mental health and wellbeing. Along with tracking changes in prevalence, and change in the association of key predictors of health outcomes, the study aims to discover changes in: the structure of school networks, the association between networks and health. It will also explore the interactions between friendship; giving and seeking emotional support; mental health stigma; negative peer interactions; and poor mental health. In addition to making comparisons with previous network studies that used ‘friendship’ name generators, Net4Health will use innovative methods to examine multilayer (multiplex) social processes relating to friendship, negative ties, seeking emotional support, and information on social crowds. This presentation will give an overview of the historical networks and health studies, discuss the involvement of a youth advisory group in the development of the project, outline plans for data collection and analysis, and present initial findings from the pilot study.

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