Participating in engagement schemes significantly improves young people’s wellbeing

New research by an expert from The University of Manchester has shown that taking part in youth engagement schemes like National Citizen Service can lead to significant and lasting improvements in young people’s mental wellbeing, especially for those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Evidence shows young people’s mental health is worsening, a trend being exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic and the isolation it has caused. Young people growing up in disadvantaged communities in particular face significant challenges to their mental wellbeing; especially since the onset of the pandemic.

Dr James Laurence from the University’s Cathie Marsh Institute for Social Research wanted to know if getting involved in youth engagement activities could improve young people’s wellbeing through experiences which encourage cooperation, empowerment and positive relationships.

To explore this, he looked at how taking part in the National Citizen Service (NCS) – a 3 to 4-week scheme where young people aged 16-17 spend time living away from home, learning new life skills, and engaging to help their communities – impacted young people’s satisfaction with their lives.

Around 3,500 participants were surveyed just before taking part, and then again three months after completion. The research found that, compared to a control group of young people, participating led to a significant improvement in mental wellbeing, and that this improvement was still evident at least 3-4 months after they had finished taking part. This appeared to be driven by two things – firstly, they reported increases in the number of people they could rely on for support if they needed help; and secondly, they became more confident in themselves and felt greater control over their lives and their futures.

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What was particularly striking was how positive the impact was for young people from more disadvantaged communities, who joined NCS with much lower levels of wellbeing than their peers from less disadvantaged backgrounds. However, after finishing the scheme, disadvantaged youths reported just much well-being as their less disadvantaged peers – in other words, taking part closed the gap in wellbeing between those from the least and most disadvantaged communities.

“This research shows that NCS – and youth engagement in general – can play a key role in improving young people’s wellbeing, and mental health more generally, especially for youth from more disadvantaged backgrounds,” said James Laurence.

“What’s unique about NCS is that it provides an opportunity for young people, especially from disadvantaged backgrounds, to have experiences that are often less available to them in their schools and communities. It provides young people a chance to develop and explore their sense of who they are, but also gain new insights into who they can be, which is vital for their wellbeing.”


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