Study links Scouting with better mental health later in life

Some benefits of Scouting show up right away. Others take months, years or even decades to be appreciated fully.

Into that latter category goes a new study from Great Britain that suggests adults who were in Scouting as young people have better mental health.

The study, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, analyzed a group of 9,603 adults — of whom 28 percent were Scouts as kids.

Adults who were in Scouting had 18 percent lower odds of a mood or anxiety disorder by age 50, even after controlling for other factors of childhood.

So why is this so? The authors posit that Scouting supports resilience throughout childhood.

Former Scouts develop “the potential for continued progressive self-education, ‘soft’ noncognitive skills, self-reliance, collaboration and activities in natural environments,” according to the study’s authors.

This all results in an adult who is less likely to have mental health problems.

Socioeconomic inequalities overcome

It gets even better.

The authors also looked at “inequalities in adult mental health associated with early life socioeconomic position.”

In other words: Does Scouting help overcome some of the challenges of growing up in a lower-income family?

Yes. The researchers found that participation in Scouting reduced or even removed the chances that someone from a lower socioeconomic background would develop mental health issues later in life.

Scout participation, they write, “may be protective, instituting a resilience to stressful life events that may lead to mental ill health.”

Possible explanations

At this point, Scouters likely are nodding their heads. This matches what we already know about Scouting’s ability to prepare young people for life.

But I found the section of the study called “Possible Explanations and Implications” to be quite fascinating. Here are some highlights:

  • Scouting offers a “system of progressive self-education based on: promises (laws), active learning, interactions within small groups and stimulating, individual-driven, self-learning through awards.”
  • “Not being purely recreational and unstructured, as a youth sport club might be, [Scouting uses] activities to allow young people to learn ‘to know,’ ‘to be,’ ‘to do’ with adults assisting, rather than directing.”
  • Continued self-learning enables former Scouts “to structure and run their adult lives in a way that is relatively more protective against mental ill health.”
  • Scouting activities develop traits like “confidence, personality, motivation, charm, that are increasingly recognised as important for achieving adult social position.”
  • Scouts spend more time outdoors, and “there is now evidence that exposure to natural outdoor environments is protective of mental health.”
  • Physical activity is a big part of Scouting, and the “benefits of physical activity for protecting or improving mental health are well established.”

Your thoughts?

Have you noticed additional positive links between Scouting and mental health? Share them in the comments.