Professor Michael Gordon is a child psychiatrist, the Unit Head for the child and adolescent stream of Early in Life Mental Health Service (ELMHS) at Monash Health and the Acting Unit Head for Perinatal and Infant Stream of ELMHS. He is also an Adjunct Clinical Associate Professor at Monash University.
Resilience is quite a buzz word at the moment. What’s your definition of resilience?
If I recall, the term resilience goes back to the 1960s or 70s, when patients of schizophrenia did a lot better than they were thought to do. Resilience seems to describe when people do a lot better than what their circumstances would dictate. There’s an expectation that a person who has experienced a lot of adversity should not do as well or may struggle. But a person showing resilience might rise above the adversity and do a lot better than people expected.
The other definition relates to remaining competent despite the exposure to misfortune or difficult events. What’s important to remember though is that resilience is hard to measure and is very context-dependant.
Being resilient in one circumstance may be different to the skill set needed to be resilient in another circumstance. Ultimately, being resilient is very situation-dependant. It also comes down to what we expect the person to do and them doing better than that expectation.
Why are times of transition a common topic when discussing resilience? Why is it so important to care for mental health during these times of transitions?
The transition from grade 6 to grade 7 is a significant transition. Someone in grade 6 may be the biggest child in the year, they’re very comfortable at school and within the fabric of that school community.
When they go to year 7, there’s a big change. They have different teachers, a larger amount of homework to do and go from being the biggest child to being the smallest child in the transition to high school. There is basically a whole new set of challenges. It’s the ability to adapt and change in the face of these new challenges that makes them resilient. Some people do it intuitively, some people do it as something they have learnt and some people have resources they can rely on.
These resources are usually about having the option to call on your support system. Family and friends can help a child build that resiliency.
At this age, hormones are changing too, so as well as external changes there are internal changes for these children.
Another major transition point is when children start school. In this transition, a child goes from spending lots of time at home to much more time in school and having to navigate it on their own, without their parents being present.
If adults prepare for the transition before it occurs, do you see that as quite significant?
Preparation is always a positive thing. I think what’s important is the idea to ask for help and for adults to be able to encourage this. In some settings and circumstances, we are trained to not ask for help. Especially as sometimes it is perceived to be weak. When in fact, asking for help shows a level of strength, not weakness.