Resilience for Mental Health

Resilience is absolutely fundamental to good mental health and well-being. During our lives we will all face challenges that test our resilience – physical or mental ill health, relationship problems, financial challenges, loss and bereavement. When faced with these challenges, our resilience can quite literally save us.

It seems that some people are born with rock solid resilience – able to bounce back from any challenges easily, while other people find it harder to recover when they face difficulties.

In all of us, resilience is something that can be developed, to improve mental well-being- and as a protective factor against future mental ill health.

There is a growing body of evidence that a number of psychological, social and behavioural factors can protect overall health, and support positive mental health. Some of those factors relate to the individual and some relate to the environment surrounding the individual.

Individual protective factors can include things like positive parenting during childhood; self-belief and confidence; good communication, coping and conflict resolution skills; strong relationships; emotional literacy; value and beliefs.

Environmental or societal factors can include things like a strong social network; stable family dynamic and housing environment; sense of community; and education around nutrition and physical exercise.

These types of protective factors help build resistance to mental ill health- and can help to build resilience.

Ideas about mental health often centre on people coping with stress and overcoming adversity. The World Health Organisation define Mental Health as follows:

“A state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community”.

Understanding the relationship between stress and illness has been a top priority for clinicians for decades- resilience is recognised as being fundamental to mental health, and paramount to the ability to recover from challenges. Positive health – in both physical and mental or psychological health - relies on the ability to withstand and cope with stress adaptively.

Experts in positive psychology have looked at whether resilience is inherent, or whether it is something that can be learned. It is certainly true that some people seem to be born with resilience, and the evidence does suggest that it is part nature and part nurture.

The good news is though, there considerable evidence that it is possible for all of us to develop resilience and, during these extraordinarily challenging times, it is valuable for all of us to look at ways we can do that.

Resilience refers to our ability to cope with the normal stresses of life as well as being able to bounce back from times of crisis

Sometimes resilience is described in terms of the individual and collective resources that a person has access to, that help them to withstand adversity, as in this definition from the Resilience Research Centre:

“In the context of exposure to significant adversity, resilience is both the capacity of individuals to navigate their way to psychological, social, cultural and physical resources that sustain their wellbeing and their capacity individually and collectively to negotiate for these resources to be provided in culturally meaningful ways.”
Resilience Research Centre

Resilience includes the physiology, attitudes, knowledge, skills and resources, that a person has, that equip them to withstand stress, adapt to change and recover from difficulties.

Being resilient relies on all of those personal resources, and it is also impacted by the individual’s environment, their socio-economic background and the culture of respect and solidarity within their society.

Research from the Resilience Research Centre has explains that the word resilience can describe three different processes:

1) Recovery
A person recovers from a challenge or difficulty that they have experienced, and things return to how they were before. You could say they have ‘bounced back’

2) Adaptation
A person changes to cope with or accommodate the challenge they have encountered and by doing so, they survive or even thrive

3) Transformation
A person is changed or chooses to change in ways that make it easier for them to do well – sometimes even better than they did before.

Source: Resilience Research Centre.

Resilience is like a muscle that can be built. In our next article we will look at some of the ways that we can all develop resilience in order to future-proof mental health and wellbeing.

If you would like to explore how we can work with your organisation to develop resilience within your teams, you can check out our Developing Resilience Workshop and Webinars here

Mental Health in Business.


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