15th November 2016
An important UK-wide study has found that joining the Scouts or Girlguiding in childhood has a substantial effect on mental health in later years, as data drawn from the National Child Development Study highlights the positive role played by these uniformed youth organisations in the lives of children.
Researchers at Glasgow and Edinburgh universities have found that more than a quarter of the participants had previously been part of a Scout or Guide group and consequently, they were 15% less likely to go on to suffer from mental issues such as anxiety, mood disorders and stress at the age of 50*. This data came from the National Child Development Study, a lifelong study of approximately 10,000 people from across the UK, who were born in November 1958.
These unexpected findings were supported even when researchers accounted for other childhood risk factors. Children, who has previously been Scouts or Guides, irrespective of their socio-economic background, have displayed better mental health in adulthood, suggesting that the inclusiveness of both organisations might have something to do with it.
This has also been, in part, attributed to the “Scouting principles” underlined by Robert Baden-Powell in the early years of the 1900s. Principles, such as lifelong learning, self-reliance, connecting with and helping others, as well as being aware of the world around you, have earlier been presented by researchers and practitioners as sound precautions against declining mental health and as actively contributing to positive youth development.
Professor Chris Dibben of the University of Edinburgh’s School of GeoSciences, one of the study’s lead researchers, emphasised the distinct benefit of joining a youth organisation in childhood and said “It is quite startling that this benefit is found in people so many years after they have attended guides or scouts.
"We expect the same principles would apply to the scouts and guides of today and so, given the high costs of mental ill-health to individuals and society, a focus on voluntary youth programmes such as the guides and scouts might be very sensible."
Certainly, Youth United Network member organisations are no stranger to endeavouring to improve the emotional wellbeing and mental health of children and young people.
Earlier this year, the Boys' Brigade, one of the largest Christian youth organisations in the UK, together with YoungMinds, have been working together to raise awareness of youth mental health issues by offering four regional conferences to help those who are suffering or vulnerable. This was made possible, in part, from UYSAF funding provided by Youth United to Boys’ Brigade.
Similarly, Girlguiding has recently launched a campaign, #ForTheGirl, which aims at tackling gender stereotypes, sexism, and anxiety about how girls look, by enabling them to share their stories and issues and giving them the tools they need to succeed in life.
*Source: The Guardian, 2016