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Fostering resilience

02 June 2021
5 min read
Volume 2 · Issue 3


The coronavirus pandemic has had a profound effect on children and young people's mental health. Stephanie Thornton discusses how child health professionals can encourage resilience in young people, to help them recover from the emotional distress of the pandemic

This has been a difficult year for young people (and for us all). Before the pandemic, around 10% of children aged 5–16 years had mental disorders, a figure that has now risen to about 17%, and the situation for 17- and 18-year-olds is worse (Office for National Statistics, 2020). These data probably underestimate levels of emotional distress, as they focus on diagnosable mental disorders, a strict criterion that excludes many levels of real depression and anxiety.

What can we do to support young people adversely affected by the stresses of the pandemic? One strong suggestion is that we might try to foster resilience, both in helping young people to cope with their current woes, and preparing them to respond more robustly to future events in what is now a strangely uncertain world.

There are marked individual differences in resilience (Ellis et al, 2017; Lionetti et al, 2018). Lionetti and her colleagues identified three personality types characterised by differences in resilience. These are: ‘dandelions’, so called because, like that hardy plant, these individuals are resilient, robustly thriving even in adverse circumstances; ‘orchids’, who, like that tender flower are much more vulnerable in adverse circumstances, and easily damaged; and ‘tulips’ who fall somewhere between these two. Over various studies, Lionetti and her colleagues found that 25–35% of children and teenagers score as dandelions, 41–47% as tulips, and 25–35% as orchids.

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