Understanding Mental Health


The Importance of Building Resilience among Students:

Have you ever wondered why some students are particularly good at dealing with ups and downs and seem to go through life with a positive attitude? There are many reasons why individuals approach life the way they do, but those who are good at coping and bouncing back from life challenges have something in common: Resiliency.
Resiliency is not one specific thing, but a combination of skills and positive attributes that individuals gain from their life experiences and relationships. These qualities help them solve problems, cope with challenges and bounce back from disappointments. Being able to deal with those setbacks and transitions is a key factor in positive mental health, as well as school and relationship success.
Resilience cannot occur without the presence of two factors - adaptive functioning and exposure to risk or adversity. A well-functioning child who has not faced high levels of adversity would not be considered resilient. An understanding of the 3 main components of resilience - risk factors, protective factors and competent functioning - is important when working with resilience in practice.
Resilience is a heterogeneous, multilevel process that involves individual, family and community level risk and protective factors. Risk factors are those that increase the likelihood of a negative outcome. Research suggests that it may be the number of risks and chronicity of risk exposure as being more important than any one risk factor.

Protective factors are those that reduce or mitigate the negative impact of risk factors and operate at the individual, family/school and community levels. They vary depending on the child’s age or developmental stage, as well as the type of adversity being faced. Examples of some protective factors include:

Individual Factors:

  • Emotional self-regulation

  • A sense of mastery and achievement

  • Self-efficacy & self-determination

  • A sense of control over outcomes

Family and School Factors:

  • A close relationship with at least one caregiver

  • A close and trusting relationship with an adult at school (i.e., teacher, administrator)

  • Positive school climate, sense of belonging and attachment towards school

Community Factors:

  • Involvement in sports and organized activities

  • Access to support services

  • External mentoring support

  • Family connected to and integrated in community


To build resilience in children it is imperative to focus on reducing risk factors and enhancing protective factors, with adaptive functioning, competence or positive outcomes being key indicators of resilience. For more information on resilience, risk and protective factors, click on this link.

Determining how and which protective and risk processes are involved is imperative for designing effective interventions. One recent area of focus that has emerged as effective interventions for schools is the Strengths-Based Approach, which focuses on the strengths (e.g., competencies, resources, personal characteristics, interests, motivations) of the student, family or community. Strength-based practice is built on the premise that the developmental process is naturally oriented towards healthy growth and fulfillment, and that everyone has strengths to aid them in this process. Strength-based practice involves moving from the traditional focus of deficits to interventions that incorporate student’s abilities and resources. This is in line with research showing that most people will do well despite exposure to great adversity.

Enhancing resiliency using strength-based interventions is about incorporating and increasing a student’s assets. These assets include the resources, attributes and skills that help students recover from negative events or feelings, cope with challenges and adversity, and recognize when things aren’t going well. Examples of developmental assets that can be integrated into intervention with students include:

  • Enhancing Relationships and Reaching Out. Foster a positive school climate that creates a sense of belonging among staff and students. Encourage students to reach out to adults for support and strategies on how best to cope with life challenges.

  • Emotional Skills: Teach students self-regulatory skills and how to best cope with daily stresses and adverse situations. Encourage students to practice these skills and make the connection of the importance of learning to manage emotions so they don't overwhelm us.

  • Competence: Skills: Teach students positive thinking and how to approach situations having a more balanced view of the world. Negative thoughts and emotions often cloud our abilities to process a situation and find solutions. Stepping back from a problem, having clarity, and listing all of the possible alternative thoughts are more effective ways of solving problems and influencing what happens in our lives. Reinforcing this with students can be a very powerful tool towards change.

  • Optimism: Encourage students to assess situations with a positive and hopeful attitude. How we think about a situation will often impact its outcome. Viewing the world through a positive lens and promoting that situations can improve will have a significant impact on the result.

For more information on how to assist students in building developmental assets at various developmental stages, click on the following links:

  • For more information on how to assist students in building developmental assets at various developmental stages, visit this site.

MindMatters is an example of an Australian initiative that operates in secondary schools and aims to foster the social and emotional skills youth in order to meet life’s challenges. For more information on this initiative, click on the following link:  www.mindmatters.edu.au.
Another program that can be run with all primary or secondary school children is the Resilience Doughnut, created by Lyn Worsley, aimed at providing a process through which teachers, students and parents can build a child’s sense of optimism and hope. For more information in this area, click on the following link: www.theresiliencedoughnut.com.au


For more resources on how to build resilience in students, click on the following links:



Promoting mental health to strengthen school communities