Children’s wellbeing is not related to their families’ household incomes – but their perceptions of how much they have relative to their friends can have an unexpected effect.
Researchers from the Centre for Longitudinal Studies analysed information from more than 12,000 Child of the New Century (CNC) study members. They found that 11-year-olds who saw themselves as richer than their peers were more likely to have lower wellbeing than those who thought they were about the same.
Children’s relationships were very important for their wellbeing. For example, children had lower wellbeing if they argued with their parents or were bullied by their siblings and peers.
Schools and neighbourhoods also played an important role. Children who enjoyed and were engaged with school had significantly higher wellbeing than their peers. Similarly, those who felt safe in their local areas tended to have greater wellbeing.
The researchers also looked at whether wellbeing and mental illness were related. Surprisingly, there were few factors that affected mental illness and wellbeing in the same way, suggesting that these aspects of overall mental health are driven by very different things.
The study’s authors warned mental health practitioners, policymakers and other researchers against conflating the two concepts: “It is often assumed that when wellbeing decreases, mental illness increases. These findings suggest it is not so straightforward,” they explained. “This evidence suggests that interventions aimed at reducing symptoms of mental illness may have little effect on improving wellbeing, and vice versa.”