“I Teach Them That Everything Is Possible” – Adult Leader’s Perspectives on How Civic Engagement Shape Youth’s Collectively Capacity to Influence Social Factors Related to Mental Health

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 15:45
Oral Presentation
Anne GOTFREDSEN, Epidemiology and Global Health Unit, Umeå University, Sweden, Umeå Centre for Gender Studies, Umeå University, Sweden
Anna-Britt COE, Umeå University, Sweden
Evelina LANDSTEDT, Epidemiology and Global Health Unit, Umeå University, Sweden
Research and prevention targeting youth mental health typically focus on individual behavior even when this involves civic engagement, which is essentially a collective activity. In the study presented here, we draw attention to the collective strategies developed through civic engagement to respond to social factors affecting youth mental health. Specifically, the paper aims to explore how adult leaders perceive civic associations as shaping teenagers’ collective capacity to influence social factors related to mental health. Previous research shows that leaders have a central role in promoting youth mental health through civic engagement, demonstrating the positive impact of sustained caring relationships between youth and non-familial adults. Interviews were conducted with adult leaders engaged in various civic associations in Northern Sweden that involve teenagers such as sport and culture. Using thematic analysis, we developed four themes from the interview material. In the first theme, creating a collective identity, adult leaders described building a sense of a “we” within the group. The second theme, commitment to a democratic structure, consisted of adult constructing opportunities where teenagers could participate and take responsibility. Thirdly, through being supportive to the group, adult leaders portrayed their efforts to respond to signs of social factors related to mental health, such as achievement pressure, by empowering the group. The fourth theme, providing an alternative, depicted the importance of civic associations for generating collective values to counteract the individualistic discourses in society that put pressure on teenagers. Nonetheless, they recognized that their alternative was not accessible to all teenagers given multiple social hierarchies. Our findings contribute to existing knowledge on adult leaders’ role in promoting youth mental health through civic engagement by highlighting their collective strategies to strengthen young people’s capacity.