Adolescent mental well-being, religion and family activities: a cross-sectional study (Northern Ireland Schools and Wellbeing Study)

Jordan Bamford, Gerard Leavey, Michael Rosato, Natalie Divin, Gavin Breslin, Dagmar Corry

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OBJECTIVES: In this study, we seek to explore the relationship between adolescent mental well-being, religion and family activities among a school-based adolescent sample from Northern Ireland. SETTING: The Northern Ireland Schools and Wellbeing Study is a cross-sectional study (2014-2016) of pupils in Northern Ireland aged 13-18 years. PARTICIPANTS: 1618 adolescents from eight schools participated in this study. OUTCOMES MEASURES: Our primary outcome measure was derived using the Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale. We used hierarchical linear regression to explore the independent effects of a range of personal/social factors, including religious affiliation, importance of religion and family activities. RESULTS: In fully adjusted models, older adolescents and females reported lower mental well-being scores-for the year-on-year increase in age β=-0.45 (95% CI=-0.84, -0.06), and for females (compared with males) β=-5.25 (95% CI=-6.16, -4.33). More affluent adolescents reported better mental well-being. No significant differences in mental well-being scores across religious groups was found: compared with Catholics, Protestant adolescents recorded β=-0.83 (95% CI=-2.17, 0.51), other religious groups β=-2.44 (95% CI=-5.49, 0.62) and atheist adolescents β=-1.01 (95% CI=-2.60, 0.58). The importance of religion in the adolescents' lives was also tested: (compared with those for whom it was not important) those for whom it was very important had better mental well-being (β=1.63: 95% CI=0.32, 2.95). Higher levels of family activities were associated with higher mental well-being: each unit increase in family activity produced a 1.45% increase in the mental well-being score (β=0.78: 95% CI=0.67, 0.90). CONCLUSIONS: This study indicates that non-religious adolescents may have lower mental well-being scores when compared with their more religious peers, irrespective of religious denomination. This may relate to both a sense of lack of firm identity and perceived marginalisation. Additionally, adolescents with poor family cohesion are more vulnerable to poor mental well-being.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere071999
Pages (from-to)1-8
Number of pages9
JournalBMJ Open
Issue number6
Early online date22 Jun 2023
Publication statusPublished online - 22 Jun 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was supported through Ulster University and the R&D Division of Northern Ireland Public Health Agency. The funders played no other role in the study and have not contributed to the analysis or writing up of the results which are the sole responsibility of the authors. Funding reference number: NA.

Publisher Copyright:
© Author(s) (or their employer(s)) 2023. Re-use permitted under CC BY-NC. No commercial re-use. See rights and permissions. Published by BMJ.


  • Religion
  • Mental Health
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Protestantism
  • Humans
  • Female
  • Male
  • Adolescent
  • Psychological Well-Being
  • Child & adolescent psychiatry
  • Northern Ireland


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