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Home » Preventing anxiety and depression through increasing school connectedness – exploring existing data to find new insights and co-developing a digital tool to support schools to build mentally healthy environments

Preventing anxiety and depression through increasing school connectedness – exploring existing data to find new insights and co-developing a digital tool to support schools to build mentally healthy environments

Principal Investigators

A joint chief investigator model: Dr Jeremy Segrott, Dr Hayley Reed, Dr Nicholas Page


Prof Frances Rice, Dr Olga Eyre, Dr Yulia Shenderovich, Prof Simon Murphy & Dr Rhys Bevan-Jones


Addressing adolescent mental health and wellbeing at a systemic level is a public health priority. In 2021, the Welsh Government introduced the Whole-School Approach (WSA) to emotional and mental wellbeing. The WSA links together the curriculum and classroom with schools’ social environment, and places strong relationships between schools and families at the heart of a long-term strategy to develop mentally healthy schools.

With this in mind, we successfully applied for a Mental Health Data Prize, funded by The Wellcome Trust. The prize supports collaborative approaches to research into anxiety and depression in young people, asking teams to explore existing data to find new insights and build digital tools that enable future research. 

Aim and Prize Phases

The long-term aim of our work is to use research data to build school environments that promote mentally healthy students and practices.

The Mental Health Data Prize involves three phases: a Discovery Phase; a Prototyping Phase and a Sustainability Phase.

During the Discovery phase we aimed to understand the key drivers of school connectedness in secondary schools through analysing data obtained from the School Health Research Network (SHRN). SHRN is a national network established within the secondary school system in Wales which has been highlighted as a key source of data to support schools when producing their action plans and developing mentally healthy schools. The SHRN initiative in Wales is an exemplar of a policy-practice-research partnership and is also recognised internationally (for example World Health Organisation’s Health Promoting Schools).   

In the Prototyping Phase, we built a School-Level Digital Dashboard to support schools to use research data to inform their actions around student mental health and well-being.  This involved co-producing the Dashboard with schools, young people, researchers, and other school health practitioners through a user-centred methodology. 

This study was one of three to be selected for the Sustainability Phase. The funding enables us to take forward our plans to pilot the Data Dashboard with four schools across Wales. We will also plan the implementation of the dashboard at a national level so schools can use research data in innovative ways to promote students’ health.

Study Design

The Discovery Phase involved a secondary data analysis of the Wales-wide student health survey and explored school connectedness and its relationship with the school environment and policies. Our secondary data analysis used linked school and student-level data obtained from SHRN that collects Wales-wide data on student mental health, with data available for 73% of students from 96% of mainstream secondary schools. 

During the first stage, we found that school connectedness (the extent to which young people feel connected to their school) relates to young people’s levels of anxiety and depression. For example, school connectedness was lower among students who had been a victim of bullying at school or felt pressure around their schoolwork and higher among students who perceived their school as providing good mental health support.

The Prototyping Phase involved co-developing the Dashboard with schools (and key stakeholders) to enable schools to analyse and act upon their own SHRN data more effectively. Co-production processes with schools, young people, researchers, and school health practitioners, supported us to make decisions on which data to include, how to display the data, and what further resources schools wanted the dashboard to link to. Drawing on findings from the Discovery Phase, we ensured schools were provided access to metrics around school connectedness (and related measures).

Our outputs included: 

  • An implementation plan for scale-up of the Digital Dashboard across SHRN in Wales 
  • Resources for mental health researchers so that they can adapt our Dashboard for their settings.

Public/Stakeholder Involvement

We have worked throughout each phase of the project with:

School-Level Digital Dashboard

Click below to find out more about the school-level digital dashboard which we have built, and to view a prototype version.

Further Information

Blog: Building mentally healthy schools – what are the active ingredients? February 2023

Blog: Meet the researchers: Brianna and Katy-May July 2023

Feedback to stakeholders involved in co-developing the prototype dashboard

News article: SHRN Data Dashboard Project one of three winners of the Mental Health Data Prize December 2023

Webinar: School-Level Dashboard Update

Start date

August 2023

End date

May 2024


Mental Health Data Prize/ Wellcome Trust