When we think about resilience and mental health, we want to be able to understand that life has many challenges and barriers to overcome that causes setbacks for each individual. When something goes wrong in our lives, we want to be able to bounce back in a recovering way that conquers each obstacle we face so that we can live within a positive mental health frame. When having resilience, you are able to have strength from within that helps you rebound from any setback or challenge. This may include “job loss, an illness, a disaster or the death of a loved one” (Mayo Foundation of Medical Education and Research, 1998). For myself, it is finding resilience within academia and understanding the many identities that students face when they bridge from high school to university. Within this paper, I want to discover how to have the ability to overcome obstacles, challenges, and barriers by using the academic planner and understanding the many identities we as students face in our everyday lives as we discover who we are and how we fit within society. Also, how to protect your mental health from the various conditions such as depression and anxiety, two very common illnesses that many students who enter into university develop due to the overwhelming need to please others in order to fit into their social roles. This paper will look at social institutions and how the government, school and health care system encourages us to think and live in a particular way that helps to maintain a social order in our society. Also, critically looking at what is the normal and the pathological and understanding the idea behind it.
What is Resilience?
To define resilience is to have “the ability to overcome difficult challenges that individuals who are resilient are able to cope with when they are exposed to stressful life situations” (Southwick, Bonanno, Masten, Panter-Brick, Yehuda, 2014). Another aspect of resilience is to also have the ability to not only cope and move forward with their challenges, but it also builds on strengths from their many experiences where they are able to heal from life stressors and challenges in the future. According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (2007), “the ability to be resilient in the face of adversity involves a number of factors such as being empathetic, have good communication skills, problem solving skills, and be able to set goals” (Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, 2007). Part of being resilient is having a strong hold on your mental health which can be a part of having a positive mental health. In promoting mental health, it means to have effort in increasing positive mental wellbeing, therefore building resilience.
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Resilience is impacted by multiple factors such as “characteristics of the individual, families and communities or environments” (Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, 2007). These factors affect the intensity of these risks and protective factors that determines the likelihood of someone becoming resilient. With the individual family and environmental factors that bring about resilience, there is a benefit to promoting protective factors and reducing risk factors. Social supports come from “positive peers, supportive teachers, and other adults, as well as immediate family” (Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, 2007). On a macrosystemic level, community factors such as “good schools, community services, sports, cultural factors, spirituality and religion, and lack of exposure to violence, contribute to resilience” (Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, 2007). There is value in the more individualistic approach to understanding the relationship between resilience and mental health, however, it only tells a small part of a much greater story. For myself, I look upon building resilience when I find myself coming into a time of need. Making connections and having good relationships with family members, friends, and others are important to me. I accept help and welcome the support givesn from those who show that they care and will listen to me during those stressful times. Having that open ear strengthens my resilience. What I also do to uphold my resilience is learning how to interpret a situation where I change how I respond to it better. I would look beyond the present situation and into the future where it gave me a more positive outlook and helps to build academic resilience to assist me during my educational years.
It is important to place the term resilience into a specific context. In the social sciences program, specifically health studies and gerontology, we place a lot of emphasis on context and historical context. This determines how we think and live, especially in the now where historical context matters most. The particular social context we are in matters, where talking about something in University is different than speaking about it in high school. This is where we modify the term resilience into the term academic resilience. It connects to our notion of identity and how our identity is constructed. With that, there is no singular identity, we have multiple that get constructed all the time. Compared to a couple hundred years ago, we had a relatively fixed identity. For example, where we were born, our family, what our families did, would all be connected to us. The hard part of this process of identification is when the identity you are constructing becomes an object. If conforming to a label is a way to identify yourself, it stops being a process that you can control and becomes an object that controls you. An example of this is bullying and allowing what you are being labeled as define you to the point of you believing it to be true. The main point is having awareness of the identity constructed and becoming more aware of how you are constructing these identities. Doing so can manage the way you view and talk to others where you can educate and help them support their own identities at the same time.
In relation to the articles where part of the research is understanding why the students are struggling in regard to their mental health and why this may be the case, one way of thinking about this is from a University point of view. We are just students and that is our primary identity that we construct while attending school. We also have other identities that are happening around us all the time such as being a part of a family as a son or daughter or being a parent ourselves. The key tensions within the article was that what students were experiencing was balancing a student identity with their family identity. If families did not understand the pressures of what it means to be a student, the student may be in a lot of stressful trouble.
From my own personal experiences with finding my identity and seeing how the schools handle the transition, I find that it is challenging for first year students to deal with the stressors of managing their family identity and their student identity. When students such as I add in a third identity which include maintain a job on top of everything else and fourth identity of maintain friendships, the stressors almost become life destructing. The academic resilience planner that was completed for lecture has been a tool used to help individuals maintain their identities and remember their purposes in each one. The planner has helped myself in managing my anxiety and stressors in which I was able to successfully balance and manage my multiple identities that I have within my own networks and kept myself grounded in times of crisis. I have also had the experience of using a similar planner when assisting clients who are experiencing their own form of identity crisis and anxieties in which has successfully worked with them so that they are able to care for themselves and others with positive mental health.
Critical Perspectives of Resilience and Mental Health
As discussed in lecture, every social institution that was spoken about such as the government, school and health care system, encourage us to think and live in a particular way that helps to maintain a social order in our society. To think this way is valuable in how we construct ourselves to our identities. However, in other cases, a society without social order is destructive. When looking from a critical perspective, there is a need to critique the negative impacts of that social order. Within our social institutions such as the educational system, it is designed to advantage some people and disadvantage others.
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From a critical perspective, the readings and lectures look at it in ways where social institutions encourage a particular social order that advantage some people and disadvantage others. In the case of health and mental health, it is referred to as the normal and the pathological. This idea tends to take all the differences among a population and average them with a mean. It was determined that what might be normal is not actually a representative of the diversity among that population. An example of this that was discussed in lecture would be the body weight of children as they are developing. The argument here is that the idea of the normal and the pathological are backwards. For example, in lecture we spoke about a French theorist within the medical sciences. This theorist spoke about the knowledge being produced about people’s health and tried to come up with a set of norms among a population of people. His argument is what gets constructed as normal which is the average across differences, end up being pathological. Therefore, the argument is that normalizing how we understand things is valuable in terms of creating mechanisms to try to encourage people to follow a certain social order but intend to pathologize difference.
With connecting mental health and resilience, people who have a different kind of mental health orientation, living with a mental illness, or have challenges, makes an argument where they are not pathological. It is just ways of inhabiting the world and it goes against the order that is constructed. Trying to destigmatize and normalize different ways of living in the world is done by looking at these movements and groups of people who are trying to shift the structures in the way people think about mental health, and what we consider to be normal and pathological. This is where having self-acceptance plays an important part with having resilience. There is always this pressure that individuals need to be more than what they already are, and this pressure ends up holding people back. When we realize that we are more than those pressures, it allows us to do the things that we want to do.
Having resilience is an essential tool to master in our everyday lives. I find that for myself, having resilience has helped me overcome challenges that I have faced, more so over the four years I have spent at McMaster. Previously I was a student at Mohawk and transitioned from a college student into a university student. The first-year transition was extremely difficult for me as I had nothing to prepare me for the culture shock and advanced educational expectations than what I was used to with coming from a local community college where standards were lower than at McMaster. I felt very lost mentally and emotionally, struggling to understand my place not only at school, but in the world. Without knowing it, I’ve used resilience to overcome the challenges and barriers I was facing over the years I was a student at McMaster. Building resilience is a journey and each approach is unique to every individual. What has helped me is making connections and building a strong family network that has supported me throughout my journey in university. It has helped establish my identity where I have been able to be a student, friend, girlfriend and daughter without feeling the pressures to favor one over the other. I encourage the use of the academic planner so that others are able to find truths within themselves and be kept grounded in times of crisis and to not allow those social institutions such as the government, health care system, and schools to label us and expect us to confirm to those identities in order to feel that we are worth something if we do.
- Bottrell, D., & Keating, M. (2019). Academic Wellbeing Under Rampant Managerialism: From Neoliberal to Critical Resilience. In Resisting Neoliberalism in Higher Education Volume, I (pp. 157). Retrieved from: https://app.dimensions.ai/details/publication/pub.1110951960
- Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. (2010). Mental Health Promotion and Resilience. Retrieved from: https://www.wrha.mb.ca/healthinfo/news/files/MentalHealth_Resilience.pdf
- Hartley, M. T. (2011). Examining the relationships between resilience, mental health, and academic persistence in undergraduate college students. Journal of American College Health. Retrieved from: http://www.jedcampus.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/Examining-the-Relationships-Between-Resilience-Mental-Health-and-Academic-Persistence-in-Undergraduate-College-Students.pdf
- Mayo Clinic Staff. (1998). Resilience: Build skills to endure hardship. Retrieved from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/resilience-training/in-depth/resilience/art-20046311
- Southwick, S. M., Bonanno, G. A., Masten, A. S., PanterBrick, C., & Yehuda, R. (2014). Resilience definitions, theory, and challenges: interdisciplinary perspectives. European journal of psychotraumatology. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4185134/
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