How do people deal with the difficult events that change their lives? The death of a loved one, the loss of a job or serious illness, or traumatic events such as terrorist attacks or tsunamis: these are examples of trying events that can potentially ruin the remaining days of our lives. Such events propel us into an unaccustomed domain of insecurity and uncertainty. They can induce the deepest emotions and leave a permanent mark. We can become engulfed and lose the will to live.
I have met people who collapsed under the shadow of crisis and never really recovered their zest for life. They became mere passengers on the journey. I have met others who possessed an ability to weather the storms, to keep health and hurt in the same room, to tap into their resources and reclaim their right to have the best possible life despite what has happened.
This innate ability to adapt in the face of adversity, trauma, tragic loss, profound disappointment, injustice or other significant sources of stress such as serious health problems, financial or workplace upheaval, is called resilience. If crises are part and parcel of life, it seems a grave pity that we do not intervene at an early stage to arm our children with the coping skills and buffers to protect them. Many people achieved amazing results in the Leaving Certificate but crumble to pieces when facing their first challenge at university.
The growing research in resilience is exciting in that by learning from the survivors or the people who ‘bounce back’ from crisis, we can potentially teach these critical skills or legislate for the necessary buffers. We need to be more innovative in Ireland and develop an evidence-based strategy to harness resilience within our children. This resilience will not be delivered by a text book or programme. Resilience is not a lesson plan, a double class period or words of wisdom from a guest speaker. Resilience is an ethos or culture fostered within schools and involves comprehensively partnering with families and communities to ensure all protective ‘buffers’ are in place. Sometimes we focus too much on mental illness at the expense of sowing the seeds of mental wellness