Ever wondered how some people can bounce back from hardships, trauma and adversity while maintaining their emotional and mental wellbeing? According to psychologists that answer may lie in how resilient you are.
Every year, around one in five Australians will experience a mental illness, with the most common types being depression, anxiety, and substance use disorder.
And with at least seven Australians dying by suicide every day, psychologists are now turning their focus on preventative measures.
Though it hasn't been widely studied, many researchers believe building resilience is a key factor in preventing mental illness.
In order to promote mental health and reduce mental illness, we need to target resilience promotion and risk prevention as a more effective strategy.
“Resilience is a key factor in the prevention of mental illness,” said resilience researcher Dr Justine Gatt from Neuroscience Research Australia. "This is important because mental health is not the mere absence of disorder."
Dr Gatt explained that only 25 per cent of the factors that define mental health and mental illness overlap.
"The remaining 75 per cent are constituted by separate factors of which resilience is a core defining component," she told SBS.
"Therefore, in order to promote mental health and reduce mental illness, we need to target resilience promotion and risk prevention as a more effective strategy. Early and targeted prevention is a critical strategy in minimising the burden of these illnesses."
Resilience is the ability to adapt and bounce back from adversity, said clinical psychologist Joe Alberts from The Resilience Centre. It also refers to someone’s ability to maintain their emotional wellbeing during adversity and to grow as a result of hardships.
“When people go through hardships or adversity… the more resilient they are, the more likely that they can manage the hardship or trauma without developing a mental illness,” he told SBS.
“People who are resilient will often experience growth as a result of going through some sort of hardship."
Fortunately, resilience is something we all have and can boost, said Dr Gatt.
In her 2012 longitudinal study on emotional wellbeing in twins, she found that both genetics and the environment were responsible for resilience. The research, which started in 2008, compared resilience data in more than 1,600 healthy adult twins in Australia.
“What we have found is that genetics contributes about 48 per cent towards resilience and wellbeing. This means that environment contributes over 50 per cent which means that resilience can be changed; it is malleable and can be promoted," said Dr Gatt.
As part of her research, Dr Gatt and her team also developed online training tools MyBrainSolutions and Freedomsway to promote global resilience and wellbeing.
So how do we boost resilience? Dr Gatt offered the following tips:
Increase positive emotions and mood
Decrease negative emotions by reinterpreting adversity or negative events
Take a goal-directed approach to life
Establish a solid social network for emotional support
"Exposure to mild stressors or challenges early in life could also help promote resilience as it provides opportunity to experience and cope effectively with manageable stressors," Dr Gatt added.
According to Yale University's Steven Southwick and Mount Sinai Hospital's Dennis Charney, other actions to help boost resilience include: being physically fit; facing up to challenges and stressful situations instead of avoiding them; and learning from resilient role models that you admire.
Proactively working on resilience when times are good is also advantageous, said clinical psychologist Alberts.
“It’s a better time to work on your resilience when things are going well than working on your resilience when you’re already facing trauma," he said.
“People should think of resilience as a really positive and proactive thing. And there’s no such thing as a person without resilience.”
Mental Health Week this year runs from Sunday 5th to Saturday 11th October. World Mental Health Day is marked every year on the same date: October 10th.
If you think you may be experiencing depression or another mental health problem, please contact your general practitioner. In Australia, contact Lifeline 13 11 14 or headspace for support, or beyondblue 1300 22 4636 or SANE Australia for information.