Do child and youth resiliency interventions reduce health inequities and improve mental health?

In brief

Resilience is seen as an important element to maintaining child and youth mental health and sustaining wellbeing during transitions. Wide interest has expanded research on interventions and how resilience might be fostered and sustained.

Researchers conducted a literature review on child and youth resilience. They surveyed both peer-reviewed articles and grey literature, from the year 2000 onwards. Qualitative, quantitative and international literature was included. Search terms included resilience, social emotional learning, adolescent, youth, children, mental health promotion.

To read about their results, read EENet’s latest Research Snapshot of the article, “A Whole Community Approach toward Child and Youth Resilience Promotion: A Review of Resilience Literature,” published in the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, volume 12, 2014.

Read it below or access the PDF.

Research Snapshots are brief, clear language summaries of research articles, presented in a user-friendly format.

What you need to know

Resiliency is a multidimensional concept that includes the complex interaction of individual, family and social factors. The relationship between resilience, mental health and social outcomes are complex. Growing evidence suggests we should support and sustain resilience-focused interventions. However, there is no solid evidence that these interventions alone are sufficient to close the equity gap in mental and physical health. A 'whole community' approach to resiliency is suggested and should include multiple disciplines.  

What is this research about?

Resilience is seen as an important element to maintaining child and youth mental health and sustaining wellbeing during transitions. Wide interest from diverse sectors and stakeholders has expanded evaluation research on interventions and how resilience might be fostered and sustained. 

This literature review looks at what child and youth resilience is, and whether resiliency interventions improve mental and physical health, foster social wellbeing, and reduce health inequities. 

What did the researchers do?

Researchers conducted a literature review on child and youth resilience. They surveyed both peer-reviewed articles and grey literature, from the year 2000 onwards. Qualitative, quantitative and international literature was included. Search terms included resilience, social emotional learning, adolescent, youth, children, mental health promotion.

What did the researchers find?

Resilience is not a personality trait or a single event, but rather a process in which a person exposed to adversity finds ways to cope. 

Resilience develops over time and depends on interactions among numerous systems. Factors such as family, school, community, society and environment all affect resilience. It is an important element in maintaining and promoting child and youth mental health. Resilience has a continuum and an individual can be on different parts of the continuum depending on the support systems available, as well as the context and challenges faced over time. There are also specific domains of resilience such as academic resilience and social resilience. 

Resilience, mental health and social outcomes are interlinked, overlapping, non-linear and bi-directional. Poor resilience has been associated with outcomes such as unsafe sex, and poor education performance. The complex process of resilience and positive mental health is influenced by the social contexts and economic circumstances that shape the individual's environment.

There is growing evidence that resilience-focused interventions are effective. They can improve the mental health and social wellbeing of children and youth who are exposed to high-risk situations. Further research, however, is needed to determine how resilience interventions differ for different populations, from different backgrounds. It is also not possible at this point to conclude that resilience interventions alone can close the gap on health and social outcomes.  

In addressing a public health policy gap, the authors suggest taking a 'whole community approach,' in which families, schools and local services work together to advance positive mental health and reduce health inequities. Although there is currently no research on how this approach applies to resilience, there is a large research base in community collaboration that can be adapted. Resilience programs and interventions should be complementary to public health measures. 

How can you use this research?

This research can be used by anyone working with youth or developing initiatives for mental and physical health promotion. Policymakers and system planners from different sectors can also benefit from understanding the health and social benefits of resiliency. Future research should look at evidence gaps on the relationship between resiliency and categories like gender, race, ethnicity and culture, and socio-economic background.

About the researchers

Nazilla Khanlou, RN, PhD, is the Women's Health Research Chair in Mental Health in the Faculty of Health at York University and an Associate Professor in its School of Nursing. For more information about Nazilla, visit: http://www.yorku.ca/nkhanlou/. Ron Wray is a consultant at DGL Consulting in Toronto.

This Research Snapshot is based on their 2014 article, “A Whole Community Approach toward Child and Youth Resilience Promotion: A Review of Resilience Literature” which was published in the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 12:64-79. This article is available online here: http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11469-013-9470-1/fulltext.html 

Keywords

Resilience, Child, Youth, Mental Health Promotion, Social Determinants of Health, Health Equity  

Evidence Exchange Network (EENet) has partnered with the Knowledge Mobilization Unit at York University to produce Research Snapshots in the field of mental health and addictions in Ontario. This summary was written by Angela Yip.