Scouts and Guides helps mental health in middle age

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Being a member of the Scouts or Guides appears to help lower the risk of mental illness in later life, a study suggests.

Children who participate in the organisations - which aim to develop qualities such as self-reliance, resolve and a desire for self-learning - are likely to have better mental health in middle age, findings from the universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow show.

Such activities, frequently involving being outdoors, also seem to remove the relatively higher likelihood of mental illness in those from poorer backgrounds.

The findings were drawn from a lifelong study of almost 10,000 people UK-wide who were born in November 1958, known as the National Child Development Study.

Scientists found former scouts or guides tended to have better mental health at age 50, and may increase a person’s chance of achieving more in life.

Around one-quarter of study participants who had been in the scouts or guides were found to be around 15 per cent less likely to suffer from anxiety or mood disorders, compared with others.

Lead researcher Professor Chris Dibben, of Edinburgh University’s school of geosciences, said such groups could help cut the cost of treating mental ill health.

“It is quite startling 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.”

Professor Richard Mitchell, of the centre for research on environment, society and health at Glasgow University, said: “Governments and health services around the world struggle to do something about the health gap between richer and poorer people, so this new evidence that being a scout or guide can help is very important.”

The study, supported by the Economic and Social Research Council, is in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

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