Press release

Scottish Health Survey reports 38% of adults in pain lasting longer than 3 months

The annual Scottish Health Survey is published today by the Scottish Centre for Social Research (ScotCen) and the Scottish Government.
  • Publishing date:
    5 December 2023

The annual Scottish Health Survey is published today by the Scottish Centre for Social Research (ScotCen) and the Scottish Government, providing a detailed picture of the health of the Scottish population.

The latest survey was conducted in 2022 and covers topics including mental wellbeing, general health, cardiovascular disease (CVD) and caring, respiratory illness, dental health, chronic pain, alcohol, smoking, diet, obesity and physical activity. 

Chronic pain data is collected for the first time

For the first time, the Scottish Health Survey collected data for both adults and children on the prevalence and impact on the lives of individuals living with chronic pain. The survey found that in 2022:

  • Over a third (38%) of adults were in pain or discomfort that lasted three months or more.
  • A higher proportion of women (43%) reported being in chronic pain than men (33%).
  • 6% of all children had experienced chronic pain for three months or more.
  • Almost four-fifths of adults living with chronic pain reported that it limited their life/work in some measure.
  • Adults who experienced pain or discomfort for 3 months or more had a lower Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale (WEMWBS) score of 44.1 compared to those who were not experiencing any pain, their score was 49.

Mental wellbeing in Scotland declines across all groups

  • Average levels of mental wellbeing continued to decrease in 2022, reaching a historic low since measurement of this began on the survey in 2008. In 2022, the average score on the Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale (WEMWBS) for adults was 47, having been 48.6 in 2021 and within the range of 49.4 – 50 between 2008-2019.
  • The proportion of adults feeling lonely most or all of the time increased from 8% in 2021 to 11% in 2022. Older adults were less likely to report feeling lonely than younger adults.
  • 27% of adults had a GHQ-12 score of 4 or more (indicative of a possible psychiatric disorder), an increase from 22% in 2021 and the highest proportion captured by the survey since the time series began in 2003. Between 2003 and 2019, the proportion of adults with a GHQ-12² score of 4 or more was between 14% – 19%
  • There has been a sustained increase in the proportion of adults reporting two or more symptoms of depression, rising every year from 8% in 2010/11 to 13% in 2021/22.
  • In 2021/22, 10% of adults reported that they had ever self-harmed. This proportion had increased from 2% in 2010/11 to 7% in 2018/19.
  • Age was a significant factor in whether someone had ever attempted suicide, the highest prevalence of 10-11% for those aged 16-34 and 55-64.

Vaping is on the rise whilst cigarette smoking declines

  • Current Nicotine Vapour Product (NVP) use increased to 10% among all adults, a jump from having remained in the range 5 – 7% between 2014 to 2021.
  • NVP usage was most prevalent among those aged 16-24. 15% of adults aged 16-24 reported that they currently used NVPs compared with 12% for adults aged 45-54.  Usage was lowest among those aged 75 and older: just 1% reported that they currently use NVPs.
  • 15% of adults reported themselves to be current smokers in 2022. This figure is in line with the general downward trend seen over previous years (17% in 2019).
  • Almost two thirds (63%) of adults reported never having smoked or previously having smoked only occasionally, an overall increase from 50% in 2003.

Paul Bradshaw, Director of the Scottish Centre for Social Research (ScotCen) said: “This important annual survey makes a major contribution to understanding and assessing the health of people in Scotland. This year’s survey continues to illustrate stark health inequalities between those living in more and less deprived areas. The survey reveals a further gradual but overall significant decline in the population’s mental wellbeing. It also highlights the extent to which vaping and the use of e-cigarettes has increased – particularly amongst younger adults whilst cigarette smoking decreased.

The report draws upon the long-standing time series and plays an important role in assessing health outcomes and risks and how these have changed over time. The high quality data collected as part of the Scottish Health Survey continues to inform policy decisions about health and help with planning services in Scotland.”

For more information please contact:

Emileigh Spurdens, Communications Manager
t:020 7549 8506 e:

Notes to editors:

  • The Scottish Centre for Social Research (ScotCen) is the Scottish arm of the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen), Britain’s largest independent social research organisation. ScotCen aims to promote a better-informed society through high quality social research (
  • The Scottish Health Survey is conducted by ScotCen and commissioned by the Scottish Government Health Directorates to provide reliable information on the health, and factors related to health, of people living in Scotland that cannot be obtained from other sources. The survey has been designed to provide data on the health of adults (aged 16 and over) and children (aged 0-15) living in private households in Scotland annually.
  • In 2022, across all sample types, interviews were held in 3,602 households with 4,394 adults (aged 16 and over), and 1,764 children (aged 0-15).
  • The 2022 survey returned to face-to-face interviewing within the home for most of the year. This means that the 2022 results can be compared with the pre-pandemic years. As telephone interviewing was necessary for the 2021 survey, this variation in survey methods should be borne in mind when interpreting changes between 2021 and 2022. 
  • Chronic pain has been broadly defined as persistent pain that continues for longer than 12 weeks despite medication or treatment and can affect all ages and different parts of the body.
  • The Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale (WEMWBS) was developed to enable the measuring of mental wellbeing in the general population. Scores range from 14 to 70 with higher scores indicating greater wellbeing.
  • The General Health Questionnaire 12 (GHQ-12) scores range from 0-12. Scores of 4 or more are indicative of a possible psychiatric disorder.