Miles Briggs: Youth group membership can help develop skills to overcome mental health issues

Building resilience among our young people to help prevent mental ill health is vital.

Monday, 30th January 2017, 9:53 am
Miles Briggs MSP

One way we can help achieve this is through encouraging more of our youngsters to become involved in youth organisations.

Recent research from scientists at the universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow, which was published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, has suggested that taking part in the Scouts or Guides lowers the risk of mental illness in later life.

The scientists analysed data from the lifelong National Child Development Study of 10,000 people from across the UK born in 1958 and found that those who had been in the Scouts or Guides were around 15% less likely to suffer from anxiety or mood disorders at age 50.

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The researchers suggested that the development of skills through the Scouts or Guides, such as self-reliance and teamwork, and being active outdoors may have lifelong benefits and help build resilience against common stresses in life.

Professor Chris Dibben of the University of Edinburgh’s School of Geosciences has suggested that, in light of the findings, a focus on voluntary youth programmes to help tackle mental health problems in society would be a sensible idea.

I agree. He points out further, that Scout or Guide membership appears to almost completely remove the health inequality in mental ill health associated with early life economic disadvantage.

Given the difficulty many Governments around the world have in reducing health inequalities, this evidence of substantial impact is, I believe, significant.

The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award scheme is another youth programme that has the potential to help our young people prepare for the challenges of later life and the impact these can have on mental health.

Across a range of outcomes, the scheme offers benefits to participants with over 70% of young people taking part saying that their self-esteem has increased, 80% feeling that they understand their strengths and weaknesses better and 92% saying it helps to learn perseverance.

Scottish Conservatives believe every school pupil should have access to groups like these, perhaps most importantly young people in the most deprived communities in our country where health inequalities are most severe and where we need to look at how we can support more volunteers in youth organisations and help these organisations to expand.

I hope this will form a key part of the Scottish Government’s soon to be published Mental Health Strategy.

n Miles Briggs is Lothian Conservative MSP and Shadow Minister for Mental Health