Blog post – Inequalities in adolescent wellbeing: early findings from the #BeeWell study

Authored by #BeeWell Research Team, The Proud Trust, and Simone (Young Person) 

 

In this blog, the #BeeWell Research Team, The Proud Trust, and Simone (a young person) reflect together on the findings of a recently published analysis of wellbeing inequalities for young people across Greater Manchester.  We focus in particular on disparities experienced by LGBT+ young people, and consider how they should be addressed. 

 

What is #BeeWell? 

 #BeeWell is a programme that aims to make the wellbeing of young people everybody’s business. We are assessing their wellbeing on an annual basis via a co-produced survey and aim to use the data generated to bring about positive change in Greater Manchester’s (GM) schools and communities as a result.   

 

What are inequalities? 

Inequalities are systematic, avoidable and unfair differences in outcomes between different populations or groups. Our research team have been using #BeeWell data to examine inequalities in adolescent wellbeing, focusing on: 

  • Life satisfaction – overall quality of life as a whole
  • Psychological wellbeing – feeling good and functioning well
  • Stress – feeling overwhelmed by the demands of daily life
  • Negative affect – experience of difficult emotions such as sadness and worry 

 

What did we do? 

We surveyed nearly 40,000 young people from more than 160 secondary schools across all 10 Local Authorities (LAs) in GM. The data were analysed using robust statistical methods that enabled us to quantify wellbeing inequalities across gender identity, sexual orientation, ethnicity, language, age, socio-economic status, caregiving responsibilities, and special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). 

 

What did we find? 

In our recently published evidence briefing, we identified major wellbeing inequalities in relation to gender identity and sexual orientation.  

There are noteworthy gaps in wellbeing scores between males and females. For example, the average life satisfaction average score was 6.2 out of 10 for girls but 7.2 for boys. Only 7% of boys report a high level of emotional difficulties on our negative affect measure, compared with 22% of girls. Non-binary young people also report lower levels of wellbeing than boys, with even more pronounced differences. For example, 50% of non-binary young people report a high level of emotional difficulties on our negative affect measure, and they score, on average, more than 3 points lower on our psychological wellbeing measure. 

There are also sizeable wellbeing inequalities for young people who identify as LGBT+. For example, gay, lesbian, bi and pansexual young people scored, on average, less than 5 out of 10 on our life satisfaction measure, compared to around 7 out of 10 for their heterosexual peers.  Meanwhile, transgender young people reported significantly higher stress levels than those who are cisgender. 

Finally, our analyses identified wellbeing inequalities across ethnicity, SEND, carer status, socio-economic status, caregiving responsibilities, and age. However, these were much smaller in magnitude than the disparities noted above in relation to gender identity and sexual orientation. 

 

Reflections and responses from the Proud Trust 

As an LGBT+ youth charity we were not surprised that LGBT+ young people report feeling less satisfied with their lives than their counterparts. These results align with our own research findings conducted with young people attending our provision during the pandemic. Our research highlighted that 21% of LGBT+ young people had experienced more LGBT-phobia during the pandemic, with 76% saying their mental health had worsened during that time.

When we compare the #BeeWell survey results with our own evidence and other national evidence, it is clear that we need to provide more support for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans (including non-binary) young people. We can use these results to ensure we are directing services to the right places. If we truly believe that our young people’s voices matter and that they should be heard, then we need to really listen.

We need to put more resources into supporting LGBT+ young people in their education settings, community settings and in the places they live. As an organisation, our vision is to end stigma and the fear of stigma through working directly with LGBT+ young people as well as influencing wider society. We can use these results to ensure we are directing services to the right places, working with our partners (e.g., 42nd Street) to ensure young people have access to the support they need and ensuring those in power understand what is needed within our communities.

 

Reflections and responses from Simone (Young Person) 

The North needs to lead the way in support for transgender community to prove to the anti-trans ideologues that their paranoid fantasy about ‘irreversible damage’ is just that: a fantasy. Material change for transgender lives would show young trans and non-binary people that their needs are being met, that their problems are considered to have equal weight to their cisgendered counterparts. We need: 

  • Increased access to specialised medical support for transgender people, such that travelling for hours across the country is not the only avenue a transgender person must take in order to access the care they need. 
  • An all-encompassing ban on conversion therapy, with no exceptions for gender identity or ‘consent’ (it is never possible to consent to such treatments) 
  • Increased visibility for transgender people and our experiences in the media, so that our essential humanity cannot be ignored. 
  • The de-platforming of anti-transgender voices so they cannot frame the discourse as ‘transgender activists versus concerned individuals’, but that the truth can be revealed: ‘the progression of human rights versus bigotry’. 
  • Education establishments need to look at themselves, their spaces, the culture they foster, and the training they provide their staff to ensure that it is LGBT+ inclusive, making it a happier and safer environment for LGBT+ young people. 

These are only the beginning steps, but with these in place we can address the central failure letting down transgender people in this country: the sense that the media and the political institutions hate us, and wish to see us eliminated from public life.