Scout and Guide Programs May Improve Adult Mental Health

Group of boy and girl scouts outsidePeople who participated in scouting or guide programs as children may have better mental health in adulthood, according to a study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

Scout and guide programs aim to help children develop skills in areas such as self-reliance, leadership, integrity, helpfulness, and resourcefulness. Many of these traits are cultivated through outdoor activities, which often include camping, hiking, and backpacking.

How Scout Programs Shape Mental Health

For the study, researchers pulled data from the United Kingdom’s National Child Development Study, a longitudinal study of nearly 10,000 children who were born in 1958.

About a quarter of participants had participated in scout or guide programs in childhood. Those participants scored better on measures of mental health at age 50. They were about 15% less likely overall to experience mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.

Scout and guide programs also appeared to help remove the socioeconomic mental health disparities. Statistics show children from poor backgrounds typically have worse mental health, but this was not the case among those who participated in scout or guide programs.

Other Benefits of Scout and Guide Programs

The study’s authors suggest the focus of scouting programs—cultivating resilience, self-reliance, and commitment, among other things—may help explain how these programs benefit mental health. Scouting and guide programs also increase opportunities to spend time outside. Many studies support the benefits of spending time outside and in close proximity to nature. A study published earlier this year found that neighborhood green spaces could be linked to a reduction in aggressive behavior among teenagers.

Other research supports the notion that children benefit from participating in scout and guide programs. According to research sponsored by the Girl Scout Research Institute, some long-term benefits of scouting include:

  • Higher income
  • Greater educational attainment
  • Increased civic engagement
  • More interest in volunteering and community service
  • More leadership experiences

According to the research, 78% of Girls Scouts have participated in leadership opportunities. By comparison, 55% of girls who were not Girl Scouts have participated in leadership opportunities. Girls Scouts were more likely to see themselves as leaders or potential leaders, and they were also more likely to have positive views of women in leadership roles.

Additional research from Tufts University found that after three years of being involved in a scout program, Boy Scouts reported increases in helpfulness, kindness, and cheerfulness, among other traits. In a control group of boys not involved in a scout program, the research team found no significant increases in similar traits.


  1. Hilliard, L. J., Hershberg, R. M., Wang, J., Bowers, E. P., Chase, P. A., Champine, R. B., . . . Lerner, R. M. (2014). Program innovations and character in Cub Scouts: Findings from Year 1 of a mixed-methods, longitudinal study. Journal of Youth Development, 9(4), 4-30.
  2. How Girl Scouting Benefits Girls [PDF]. (2014). New York: Girl Scout Research Institute.
  3. Scouts and guides have better mental health in later life, study finds. (2016, November 9). Retrieved from

© Copyright 2016 All rights reserved.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Dervis

    November 18th, 2016 at 5:07 AM

    Good guide

  • Louise

    November 18th, 2016 at 11:37 AM

    Both of my girls were in the Girl Scouts and I can honestly say that I don’t believe that wither of them would trade that experience that they had for anything. They made lifelong friends and connections, as well as developed a worldview that has served them very well over the years and that they have been blessed to now be able to share with others.

  • Jonathan

    November 20th, 2016 at 7:16 AM

    This is something that encourages giving and community involvement from a young age and I think that this is something that could benefit all of us in the future. These are the types of groups that for our leaders of tomorrow, it shows kids that what they do in the community and society as a whole are the things that make a difference in a positive way to other people, and I think that when they start this at a young age then it becomes part of who they are and they will continue to do these things, perhaps on an even larger scale, all throughout their adult lives.

  • regina

    November 21st, 2016 at 3:06 PM

    so glad to see a positive article written about the boy scouts- for a long time now it seems that the legacy has been tainted with accusations of abuse. no longer i hope

Leave a Comment

By commenting you acknowledge acceptance of's Terms and Conditions of Use.

* Indicates required field.

GoodTherapy uses cookies to personalize content and ads to provide better services for our users and to analyze our traffic. By continuing to use this site you consent to our cookies.