Sense of belonging to social groups is good for teenagers’ mental health, study suggests

Teenagers who lack a sense of belonging to social groups such as family, friends and school are more likely to suffer mental health issues, new research suggests.

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A sense of belonging to groups such as friends is good for teenagers' mental health (Pic posed by models)

Psychologists at Nottingham Trent University and the University of Dundee found that the more social groups 13-17 year olds positively identified with at the start of their study, the better their mental health was a year later.

They also identified a reciprocal relationship, where those with better mental health at the start of their study would have the greatest number of strong social groups by the end.

More than half a million young people in the UK have been diagnosed as suffering from psychological problems.

As part of the study more than 400 secondary school pupils completed a questionnaire twice over the course of a year – measuring their mental health and the extent of their ‘belonging’ to family, friends and school.

Our study highlights the need for schools to teach children about both mental health and the importance of groups

Dr Juliet Wakefield, Nottingham Trent University

The researchers, writing in the British Journal of Clinical Psychology, argue that possessing multiple positive group identifications is particularly beneficial for young people’s mental health.

This is because they are more likely to receive a wider range of social support – such as emotional or informational – and, should their relationship with one or more group diminish, they will still have strong support from the others.

Understanding the cyclical relationship between mental health and strong identification with social groups could help pave the way for better interventions for young people around mental health, the researchers say.

“Our study highlights the need for schools to teach children about both mental health and the importance of groups,” said Dr Juliet Wakefield, a psychologist in Nottingham Trent University’s School of Social Sciences.

“Doing so will help to give our young people the best start in life.

“Strong identification with multiple groups appears to protect young people against psychological ill-health. Better mental health also leads to young people harnessing more social groups to which they feel they belong, creating a ‘virtuous circle’.

“Conversely, poor mental health could lead to young people feeling a sense of belonging to fewer social groups. It may be the case that people who suffer from depression, for instance, are unable to interact with social groups and are less able to form group identifications.”

Dr Kirsty Miller, a psychologist at the University of Dundee, said: “This research is particularly timely given the unprecedented number of young people currently suffering from mental illness.

“Our work offers a different perspective from which to address these issues in a resource-effective and cost-effective way.”

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    Nottingham Trent University (NTU) is one of the largest UK universities with nearly 28,000 students and more than 3,500 staff across four campuses, contributing £496m to the UK economy every year. It is one of the most environmentally-friendly universities, containing some of the country’s most inspiring and efficient award-winning buildings.

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Sense of belonging to social groups is good for teenagers’ mental health, study suggests

Published on 11 July 2017
  • Subject area: Psychology, sociology, health and social care
  • Category: Press; School of Social Sciences

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