Building your resilience – what are your risk factors and protective factors?
By Dr Desiree Dickerson
Resilience isn’t really about removing the stress and stressors in our lives. It’s about how we as individuals learn to deal with that stress or stressors effectively. So, what determines our resilience? What are the protective and the risk factors involved. As a psychologist, when someone comes into the clinic, I’m very interested in identifying which risk factors they’re exposed to and which protective factors they hold already.
The risk factors are the things that decrease our ability to be resilient. They also increase the likelihood of negative outcomes occurring. Risk factors include:
- Loss and grief
- Poor academic achievement
- Lack of social skills
- Relationship difficulties
We know that isolation is just inherently bad for us. Things like a changing family structure or changing of school systems can cause an instability. It removes the individual from support networks or support individuals that they may have. That instability is stressful for any of us, and more so for children.
- Drug and alcohol use
This reflects poor coping strategies, or the absence of positive coping strategies – it tends to be quite a cyclical problem.
- Experiencing discrimination and racism
- Being exposed to witnessing or being exposed to violence
These things increase the amount of stress in an individual’s life and it means that it’s weakening the system. It’s reducing their ability to cope with subsequent stressors as well.
- Fear about or an uncertainty of the future
This can often reflect a lack of hope in the future, which can be a big flag for things like depression or suicidal ideation.
- Issues with body image
- Search for own self identity
“These risk factors mean that the individual has less resources to draw on already when they face a crisis. And it means they are typically exposed to greater and more chronic stress in the first place.”
Protective factors provide a balance or a buffer for the risk factors. And as psychologists, we are also really interested in identifying and teasing out what particular factors an individual might hold already, and what sorts of protective factors that we can help them build into their life, so that we can help them to reduce their vulnerability and to buffer against the risk factors. Many prevention strategies tend to focus on strengthening these protective factors, through things like helping with problem-solving skills or social skills.
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