Primary author: Aakriti Bhargava

Resilience theory has been studied intensely for the past few decades in many fields by psychologists, sociologists, psychiatrists, social workers, and educators. The theory is very diverse and covers a broad range subjects including individuals, families, and communities. Originally, the word resilience comes from the Latin words ‘salire’ meaning to spring up and ‘resilire’ meaning to spring back (Relch, Zautra, and Hall, 2010). A common definition of resilience is the ability to adapt to adversity in a positive manner (Tugade, Fredrickson, and Barrett, 2004). Positive reinforcing emotions such as happiness, optimism, and perseverance are linked to the concept of resilience.

One of the first researchers of resilience was Norman Garmezy in 1973 and helped shape the definition of resilience through the study of ill people versus healthy people. The majority of the research done on resilience theory has been done on children. In 1989, a study was done on children with a schizophrenic parent who did not get adequate parenting. Some of the children with schizophrenic parents developed vicious behaviors while other children did not, even though they had unhealthy parents. The latter children were labeled as ‘resilient’ because they overcame an unfavorable situation and were still able to thrive (Cicchetti, 2010). Their resilient behavior could have been brought out from positive relationships with others outside their homes, such as educators and mentors. Studies like this proved that is it possible for people to overcome adversity.

Many of the primary studies on resilience theory were conducted on children, but studies have grown to cover many different groups and individuals. Through this research, many models have been developed to evaluate a person’s or group’s ability to overcome unfavorable conditions through resilience. One well-known model is the family stress theory or the Double Helix ABCX Model developed by McCubbin and Patterson in 1983. This model was based on the ABCX Model developed by Reuben Hill in 1949. Hill studied various families’ responses and reactions to World War II. The model identified three factors (ABC: a stressor event, the family’s perception of that stressor, and the family’s existing resources) that were used to predict the families’ abilities to deal with the war. McCubbin and Patterson went on to study the different coping mechanisms that were used by families to overcome a crisis or achieve resilience (McCubbin and Patterson, 1983). The model emphasizes the influence of all the family members on each other, with the regards to the development and achievement of resilience. This model has been used as a guide to understand resilience in individuals, families, and communities.

Resilience has often been linked to risk. After much research, resilience has been thought to be an interplay or reaction to risk (Walsh, 2002). As seen from studies and the Double Helix ABCX Model, important relationships between people can have vital influences on the development of resilience. Resilience can be inducted to people through encouragement by others. Public health often approaches the risk factors of an illness in order to prevent it. However, resilience is also an important approach to effective prevention of illness. Resilience can be spread throughout communities through education and health and social services, thus creating a sense of community. Social unity can help individuals increase their mental and physical health. According to the Mayo Clinic, community resilience can be promoted through physical activities, recreational activities, jobs, charities, clubs, and other positive activities (Mayo Clinic, 2009). With growth and increase of such activities, people can build communities with better health.

A great example of family and community resilience can be seen in a study conducted among women diagnosed with breast cancer and depression, who had weaker overall immune systems with fewer active cells, compared to women diagnosed with breast cancer who were not depressed. With weaker immune systems, the depressed women were not as able to resist and kill the cancer cells as were the non-depressed women (Francis, Baughman, Piatt, and Eve, 2008). This study showed how being resilient and positive can ultimately result in healthier emotional and physical health. With the encouragement and optimistic attitudes of the health professionals and family members of these women, they were able to achieve resilience. Resilience can be a very important concept of public health, especially because it can be associated with healthy functioning of the body and less incidence of illness. Promoting resilience can be an important prevention method of many illnesses.


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