Scouts and guides provide 'mental health boost for life'

Date: 15th November 2016
Category: Mental health, Recreation, play and cultural activities

Two research centres at the Universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow have published a study which found that being in the Guides or Scouts as a child seems to protect mental health long into adulthood.

Those who were in the Guides or Scouts were about 18% less likely to have a mood or anxiety disorder at age 50, than those who were not. This protective link seems especially strong for children who grew up in less advantaged households, so much so that the usual 'gap' in mental health between those from richer and poorer backgrounds does not exist among those who were Scouts or Guides.

The research team used data from the National Child Development Study (NCDS) which has followed a group of people born in the UK in a single week in 1958, throughout their lives. They are periodically interviewed, and this gives a picture of how a participant's life and health develops over time.

NCDS captures a large amount of information about the life circumstances of the participants; the kind of family and home the child grew up in, including their parents' jobs, health, attitudes to education and aspirations for their child's future. Researchers were able to take account of the family background of the participants, and impacts this may have had on their health in later life. Researchers also knew whether respondents did other kinds of activities as children, such as attend Church groups or voluntary groups. These kinds of activities made good comparisons for being in Scouts or Guides and the study found that they did not have the same link to better mental health.

There are several factors that have been attributed to the outcomes of the study. Many of the things that being a Scout or Guide enable children to do or learn are useful for protecting mental health: taking exercise, eating well, enjoying the outdoors, having good social skills, having fun and making a contribution. Being a Scout or Guide helps children to encounter new or challenging situations and cope well, with the help of others. Such findings have important policy implications, particularly in a context in which children and young people are increasingly experiencing mental health disorders.