The type of learning encouraged in the Scouts and Guides appears to lower the risk of mental illness in adulthood, a major study suggests.
Children who participate in their often outdoorsy pursuits – which encourage self-reliance, resolve and independent learning – are likely to have better mental health in middle age, the findings show.
Such activities also seem to remove the higher likelihood of mental illness among people from poorer backgrounds, at a time of growing concerns about anxiety and stress among children.
The findings are drawn from the National Child Development Study, which tracks almost 10,000 UK people born in November 1958. Scientists from the universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow discovered that those who had belonged to the Scouts or Guides were about 15 per cent less likely to suffer from anxiety or mood disorders at the age of 50.
The researchers say that programmes which encourage self-reliance, teamwork and being outdoors may have long-lasting benefits, by helping guard against “common stresses” or increasing the chances of achieving more in life.
Lead researcher Professor Chris Dibben, of the University of Edinburgh’s School of GeoSciences, said it was “quite startling that this benefit is found in people so many years after they have attended Guides or Scouts”. He added: “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 University of Glasgow’s Centre for Research on Environment, Society and Health, 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.”
Adventurer Bear Grylls, chief scout of the Scout Association, was “really proud” that it provided young people with the skills needed to “deal with what life throws at them”.
The study, supported by the Economic and Social Research Council, was published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.