The Scout Association is pleased to announce the findings of a new study, which has found that young people who had participated in Scouting and Guiding had significantly better mental health in middle age than their peers who had not been part of the Movement.

Over 9,600 people were sampled, as part of a lifelong study of people from all over the UK born in November 1958, known as the National Child Development Study. Of this group, 28% had been members of Scouting or Guiding as young people. The study found that, at the age of 50, this group were around 15% less likely to suffer from mood disorders (including depression and anxiety) than adults who had not been members of Scouting or Guiding.

Despite it having been many decades since many of the participants had been part of the Movement, there was a startling protective effect on mental health. This was present even when the researchers accounted for childhood risk factors, including mental illness being generally more prevalent in families from poorer backgrounds.

‘It is quite startling that this benefit is found in people so many years after they have attended Scouts or Guides,’ said lead researcher Professor Chris Dibben, from the University of Edinburgh’s School of GeoSciences. ‘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 Scouting or Guiding might be very sensible,’ he continued.

The authors of the study suggest that the findings represent the benefits of learning ‘soft’ skills, including teamwork and self-reliance, coupled with frequently being outdoors in natural environments. Scouting teaches young people skills for life, and now there is evidence that these skills can have lifelong benefits for one of the most important indicators of our health and wellbeing.

County Youth Commissioner and Cub Scout Leader Emma Cooper said “We’re really proud to be able to say that the great work that Scouts do in their local communities has a massive impact on the lives of young people not only now, but in the future. In East Lancashire we work closely with the Guides to make sure that every young person gets the opportunity to experience the life-changing adventure that we offer and learn some valuable skills for life.”

Bear Grylls, Chief Scout, said: ‘I am really proud that Scouting provides young people with an opportunity to develop the skills they need to be resilient and deal with what life throws at them. Through initiatives such as our A Million Hands Campaign, the Scout Association is helping give young people the ability to develop mental wellbeing throughout their lives.’

The study was conducted by researchers at the universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow, and has been published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

If you’d like to take action on mental wellbeing, make sure your young people are involved with our Community Impact campaign, A Million Hands. We’ve teamed up with Mind to create resources that help young people to take action in their communities.