Adventure education that puts troubled youth in situations needing resilience and teamwork, could have spin-offs for youth with anxiety and depression, suggests an Otago study.

The results of the study, which have been recently published in the journal  Kōtuitui: New Zealand Journal of Social Sciences, were arrived at through the use of a Positive Youth Development approach, which measures outcomes achieved among youth with mental health challenges. The ‘lab’ for the study was a series of voyages of the gaff-rigged schooner  R. Tucker Thompson, which makes passages around the Bay of Islands. Most of the youth on these voyages are Māori and come from the Northland region.

“We wanted to investigate how and why programs like the R. Tucker Thompson are often viewed as positive ways to build resilience in our young people. Our view is that youth today are not less resilient than previous generations, but they face a rapidly changing world and we need to ensure that they are well equipped to face life’s challenges,” says Hitaua Arahanga-Doyle, lead author of the study and a PhD student at Otago’s Department of Psychology.

Arahanga-Doyle says that of particular interest for future research in the field are clear links between positive outcomes and working together.

“The group aspect is particularly interesting. The positive changes in the youth on board were linked to working as a group in order to overcome the new and often demanding situations on the voyage rather than tackling them as an individual,” said Arahanga-Doyle.

“This ethos of relationships and the importance of others maps well onto Kaupapa Māori views of health and identity, where personal development and resilience are always viewed in the context of values such as whanaungatanga, a sense of belonging to and holding a collective identity with others. This understanding and use of Kaupapa Māori is something that the Tucker Thompson is actively incorporating within their voyage.”

Dr. Damien Scarf, study supervisor, says that while tools like the R.Tucker Thomson aren’t silver bullets, the results of the study point to the potential for settings like this to engender positive outcomes, particularly among youth suffering from the worrying incidence of things like anxiety and depression.

“Rather than dwelling on the negative, what we’ve demonstrated is that through providing positive ways to develop our young people we can increase their resilience, and in doing so we hope to decrease negative outcomes. A key finding is that resilience is not simply a property of the individual, resilience is built through social support and being accepted by important others,” says Scarf.

The authors also believe the study highlights the need to address the particular mental health challenges faced by adolescent Maori and adolescents from low socio-economic backgrounds, who are disproportionately represented in New Zealand mental health statistics.

Dr Scarf says the next step of the study will be to collect qualitative data from participants. “The qualitative data will provide a much richer view of the voyage and how youth think about belonging, identity, and other aspects of the voyage.”




  1. This Otago study is built on the same visions which were first expressed in the “Outward Bound” venture (1941). That well-known movement aims for the betterment of “personal growth and social skills” – whereas this crowd aims to help young people with problems of “anxiety and depression”. I suggest that the Outward Bound vision is the more realistic. Anxiety is a neurotic condition – and yes, there could possibly be some “spin-offs” for young folks suffering from that. However, depression (excluding reactive depressions) is genetically based. Eo Ipso, it is therefore unlikely that future attacks of depression can in any way be avoided by this “Positive Youth Development Approach”.


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