COSMO – Mental and physical health

Think tank: The Sutton Trust

Author(s): Various authors

November 9, 2023

This report from UK think tanks the Sutton Trust & CEPEO examines inequalities in mental health and access to support services.

Even though many areas of life have largely returned to normal following the pandemic, the long-term trend of worsening mental health and wellbeing of young people is an ongoing issue.

This research briefing examines this using data from wave 2 of the COSMO study, collected when participants were aged between 17 and 18. Symptoms of psychological distress – as measured by the General Health Questionnaire (GHQ-12) – are considered, as well as other aspects of wellbeing like bullying and harassment. Use of mental health support services and satisfaction with school support are also analysed. Additionally, indicators of physical health are presented, including self-reported general health, long-term illness, and incidence of long COVID.

In the mental health section of this briefing, we highlight the experiences of young people who report a gender identity other than male or female (‘non-binary+’ – 3% of participants), given previous evidence of increased psychological distress for this group. We also present differences by sexual orientation (newly available in COSMO wave 2; 17% of participants report a sexual orientation that is not heterosexual, thus LGBQ+), given previous evidence suggesting mental health problems are more likely for LGBQ+ individuals.

The scale of the COSMO study, combined with the increasing reported prevalence of non-binary identities and LGBQ+ sexualities, provides sufficient sample sizes to look at these groups whose experiences are often not possible to report in smaller studies.