Youth mental health research has been driven by the narrow definition of mental health focusing on mental illness. However, the World Health Organization defines mental health as a comprehensive state of well-being, recognizing that mental health is more than just the absence of mental illness. Researchers are increasingly examining the positive mental health of youth, i.e., flourishing, a construct that encompasses multiple domains of well-being including happiness and life satisfaction, mental and physical health, meaning and purpose, character and virtue, and close social relationships. The important task to advance the studies of youth flourishing is to develop sound measures that capture the meaning of this complex concept, which can be generalized across different groups, cultures, and societies. The purpose of this study was to examine the construct validity of the youth flourishing measure in a population dataset and examine measurement invariance between the youth of color and white youth.
The flourishing measure was derived from the 2020 National Survey of Children’s Health. The sample included 3,982 youth of color (23%) and 13,557 white youth (77%) aged between 12-18. The number of males (52%) and females (48%) were comparable. Confirmatory Factor Analyses (CFAs) were conducted to examine the construct validity of the flourishing measure using the Weighted Least Squared Mean and Variance Adjusted (WLSMV) estimation method. The goodness of fit statistics was calculated using the Comparative Fit Index (CFI), Tucker–Lewis index (TLI), and the Root Mean Square Error of Approximation (RMSEA) methods. Additionally, a series of multi-group CFAs were conducted to examine measurement invariance between the youth of color and white youth, testing the configural, metric, and scalar models successively.
The best model fit was found in the one-factor model with the following five items, i.e., 1) show interest and curiosity in learning new things; 2) work to finish tasks they start; 3) stay calm and in control when faced with a challenge; 4) care about doing well in school; 5) do all required homework. The model fit significantly improved when the error terms of item numbers 4 & 5 and 2 & 5 were correlated. The resulting model showed an excellent fit [χ2(3) = 40.56, P<0.001, CFI=1.0, TLI=0.999, RMSEA=0.027 (90% CI = 0.020-0.035)], and standardized factor loadings for all indicators were between 0.68~0.88. The results from the multi-group CFAs showed configural, metric, and scalar invariance, except for the resilience item (#3), indicating partial measurement invariance.
Conclusions and Implications
The results from the study indicate that the unidimensional 5-item structure of the flourishing measure used in the NSCH has an acceptable fit. Partial invariance indicates that the measure is equivalent to the youth of color and white youth except that the resilience question might be measuring a different concept in the two groups. Future youth mental health research should consider racial and cultural differences in measuring youth flourishing across various understudied racial and ethnic groups.