“Children’s and young people’s leisure activities must be secured even in exceptional times” – Communal leisure activities in youth can support mental health into adulthood

Communal leisure activities in youth can have positive and far-reaching effects on mental health, according to a new study by the University of Oulu.

A research group of experts in psychiatry and health sciences investigated the association of leisure activities of young people aged 15–16 with later psychiatric morbidity.

According to the study, socially active leisure time in youth was associated with a lower incidence of psychiatric disorders. This was particularly evident in the case of mood disorders, anxiety disorders and substance abuse. Similarly, socially passive leisure time was associated with a higher incidence of psychiatric disorders, particularly anxiety and behavioural disorders.

The study subjects consisted of nearly 7,000 persons belonging to the cohort born in Northern Finland in 1986. They responded to a survey on recreational activities between the ages of 15 and 16. The survey collected information on the number of hobbies and how much social interaction was involved in the subjects’ hobbies. Data and diagnoses related to psychiatric morbidity were collected from the national registers.

The subjects were followed up until early adulthood. At the end of the follow-up, they were 33 years old.

“Previous studies have already shown that meaningful social leisure activities have a positive effect on the mental health of young people. This is confirmed by the study we have now published,” says head researcher Johanna Timonen. She continues: “Studies have usually been based on surveys and self-assessment, but now we have very comprehensive information on the participants’ mental health diagnoses from adolescence to adulthood.”

“Communal leisure activities seem to be highly significant for the mental health of young people, and their positive effects are carried over into adulthood. This issue is particularly relevant at a time when the leisure activities of children and young people have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. In the light of studies, it is important to support leisure activities even in exceptional times. According to these results, the Finnish model for leisure activities, which aims to provide a meaningful hobby for every child and young person during schooldays, is an excellent step in the right direction,” Timonen emphasises.

The study was recently published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence.

Research publication: Timonen, J., Niemelä, M., Hakko, H., Alakokkare, A., Räsänen, S. Associations between Adolescents’ Social Leisure Activities and the Onset of Mental Disorders in Young Adulthood. J Youth Adolescence 50, 1757–1765 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-021-01462-8

The study was funded by Itla Children’s Foundation.

Last updated: 1.9.2021