BACKGROUND : Mass gatherings are well-documented for their public health risks; however, little research has examined their impact on mental health or focused on young people specifically. This study explores risk and protective factors for mental health at mass gatherings, with a particular focus on characterising attendees with high levels of psychological distress and risk taking. METHODS : Data collection was conducted in situ at "Schoolies", an annual informal week-long mass gathering of approximately 30,000 Australian school leavers. Participants were 812 attendees of Schoolies on the Gold Coast in 2015 or 2016 (74% aged 17 years old). RESULTS : In both years, attendee mental health was found to be significantly better than population norms for their age peers. Identification with the mass gathering predicted better mental health, and this relationship became stronger across the course of the mass gathering. Attendees with high levels of psychological distress were more likely to be male, socially isolated, impulsive, and in a friendship group where risk taking was normative. CONCLUSIONS : Mass gatherings may have a net benefit for attendee mental health, especially for those attendees who are subjectively committed to the event. However, a vulnerable subgroup of attendees requires targeted mental health support.