On the reciprocal effects between multiple group identifications and mental health: A longitudinal study of Scottish adolescents

Br J Clin Psychol. 2017 Nov;56(4):357-371. doi: 10.1111/bjc.12143. Epub 2017 Jun 8.


Objectives: The aim of the study was to investigate the link between social group identification and mental health outcomes in a sample of secondary school pupils. Based on previous work, it was predicted that multiple high group identifications would protect against psychological ill health. Furthermore, it was predicted that better mental health would also predict greater number of group identifications, thus creating a 'virtuous circle'.

Design: A longitudinal questionnaire design was used.

Methods: A total of 409 Scottish secondary school pupils aged 13-17 completed a questionnaire twice over a year. Pupils' responses regarding their mental health and the extent of their identification with three groups (the family, school, and friends) were measured.

Results: A path analysis of the data showed that greater number of high group identifications predicted better mental health outcomes amongst participants. However, better mental health also predicted greater number of high group identifications, suggesting that there is a cyclical relationship between both variables.

Conclusions: The findings have both theoretical and practical implications. They highlight the importance of conceptualizing the link between group identification and mental health as cyclical, rather than unidirectional. This reconceptualization has implications for mental health promotion strategies, as it highlights the importance of attempting to turn a potentially 'vicious cycle' of social disidentification and mental ill health into a 'virtuous cycle' of social identification and mental health.

Practitioner points: Results showed that in a population of 409 high school pupils, the more high group identifications pupils had, the better their mental health outcomes. Better mental health also predicted a greater number of high group identifications over time. The findings suggest that we would benefit from conceptualizing the relationship between group identification and mental outcomes as being cyclical rather than unidirectional. Viewing the relationship between group identification and mental health in this way enables us to consider interventions which help turn a 'vicious cycle' into a 'virtuous cycle'. Limitations A potential limitation of the work relates to the use of self-report questionnaires which may elicit socially desirable responses. The sample only consists of high school pupils from mainstream public schools within Scotland.

Keywords: adolescents; groups; longitudinal; mental health; social determinants of health; social identity.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Mental Health / standards*
  • Scotland
  • Social Identification*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires