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Building resilience in young people

Edith H Grotberg has created a method for spotting depression in young people. From her research she has developed a model for building childhood resilience.

The International Resiliency Project 

Directed by Edith H Grotberg, the project investigated the factors used by parents, teachers, carers (and children themselves) to develop resilience in young people. Some 15 adverse scenarios were devised, then the reactions to them by children and carers from 14 countries were analysed. The major findings included:

  • resilience-promoting behavior is consistent with the familiarity of a situation
  • younger children have a lower frequency of resilience-promoting responses than do older children or adults
  • reports of a personal experience correlated with a higher percentage of resilience responses
  • more than half the responses showed no or only partial use of resilience factors.
Spotting depression in young people

Young people are faced with many challenges with which they are not emotionally equipped to deal. Moving home, parental divorce, losing a friend, changing schools, failing exams, suffering abuse, rejection, bullying, or humiliation. For those who lack resilience, any of these can cause mild depression, with a gradual downward spiral into mental illness. Catching this early can make a big difference in achieving a positive outcome for a young person. 

Edith Grotberg argues that listening to their conversation can give us clues as to whether young people are depressed. She says that whenever we hear a young person make any (or many) of the following statements, we should be aware that depression is possible:
  • I feel that life is an endless series of problems with no solutions in sight.
  • Sometimes I feel like I'm being pushed around in life.
  • I feel like I have little control over the things that happen to me.
  • I feel like I can't really change whatever is going on in my life.
  • I feel emotionally empty most of the time.
  • I feel sad a lot of the time.
  • My stomach hurts a lot of the time, for no reason. (Zwaigenbaum. Szatmari, Boyle, & Oford. 1999)
  • I feel angry with the world and with myself.
  • I feel like there is no hope.
  • I sometimes feel like I would rather die than go on living.

Yet not all young people are overwhelmed by adversity. Many of them face up to life's challenges and continue their development, despite setbacks. 

Whether young people develop depression or resilience depends largely upon their feelings of powerlessness or capability. For youth to become resilient, they must feel that they have the ability to do something about their situations, to meet their challenges. When they have doubt about their ability to find a successful solution, feelings of depression are in the making, says Grotberg.

A model for building childhood resilience

The good news is that young people can be taught to meet adversity with resilience, rather than with depression, by learning  five basic building blocks of resilience. The blocks are: trust, autonomy, initiative, industry and identity. These contribute to young people's ability to face, overcome, be strengthened by, or even be transformed by experiences of adversity. The building blocks equip young people to deal with the adversities of life that tend to bring on depression.

Based on the building blocks, Grotberg has devised a model for developing resilience. The model has three components:

'I have'  supports around me that promote resilience. This makes use of the 'trust' building block 
'I am' encourages the development of inner strengths such as confidence, self-esteem, and responsibility. This makes use of the 'autonomy' and 'identity' building blocks 
'I can' is about the acquisition of interpersonal and problem solving skills. This makes use of the 'initiative' and 'industry' building blocks.

In terms of the above model, a young person who has developed resilience would be able to say:

I have:
  • People around me I trust and who love me, no matter what
  • People who set limits for me, so I know when to stop before there is danger or trouble
  • People who show me, by the way they do things, how to do things right
  • People who want me to learn to do things on my own
  • People who help me when I am sick, in danger or need to learn

I am:
  • A person people can like and love
  • Glad to do nice things for others and show my concern
  • Respectful of myself and others
  • Willing to be responsible for what I do
  • Sure things will be all right

I can:
  • Talk to others about things that frighten me or bother me
  • Find ways to solve problems that I face
  • Control myself when I feel like doing something not right or dangerous
  • Figure out when it is a good time to talk to someone or to take action
  • Find someone to help me when I need

'While there is no guaranteed antidote to feelings of powerlessness and depression, the five building blocks have proven effective in fostering and strengthening resilience. As such, they are teammates in facing, overcoming, and being strengthened or even transformed by experiences of adversity. They work.' concludes Grotberg.

Copyright:  Centre for Confidence and Well-being 


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