THE Christian youth organisations the Girls’ and Boys’ Brigades have welcomed a report that suggests that participation in Scouts or Guides in childhood had resulted in better mental health later in life, despite conclusions that churchgoing had no such association.
The report Be(ing) Prepared, published this month in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, was based on data taken from a 2008 survey of more than 9600 individuals, conducted as part of the National Child Development Study: a lifelong study of people in the UK who were born in November 1958.
It suggested that, at the age of 50, those who had participated in the Scouts or Guides as a child (28 per cent) were, as a group, 18 per cent less likely to suffer from mood disorders than those who had not. This was attributed to the focus, in structured youth programmes, on developing attributes such as self-confidence and compassion, through exercise, sociability, and outdoor activities. Religious and spiritual involvement, and contribution and service, were also listed.
Church membership, however, was not directly associated with improved mental health in the report. Those who had attended church, or took part in church groups as a child (5.4 per cent), did not show significantly lower levels of anxiety and depression in adulthood, it says. But those who were Scouts or Guides “were also two to three times as likely to have been, or still be, a member of church or voluntary groups.” About two per cent more participants attended (or continued to attend) church at the age of 50 than in childhood.
The lead researcher for the report, Professor Chris Dibben, of the University of Edinburgh, said that the benefits to those who attended in the 1970s were “startling”, and that he would expect the same principles to apply to Scouts and Guides today.
The director of Girls’ Brigade Ministries, Ruth Gilson, was confident that the group would produce equally positive results should a similar report be conducted for its members. The Girls’ Brigade is conducting its own research into the relationship between faith and child development.
”We’re actively training leaders around issues linked to mental health,” she said. “An atmosphere of faith has a positive impact on the lives of the girls and young women we work with, such as helping them understand how God fits into their life.”
The newly appointed chief executive of the Boys’ Brigade, Bill Stevenson, said: “Researchers found that programmes which help young people with . . . teamwork, outdoor exploration, and self-reliance can provide lifelong benefits.”