Community Resilience: Models, Metaphors and Measures

Community Resilience


In this paper, we discuss the importance of community resilience for Aboriginal health and well-being. The concept of resilience has been used in developmental psychology and psychiatry to describe individuals’ capacities to achieve well-being and thrive despite significant adversity. Resilience is also a useful concept in ecology where it draws attention to the ability of ecosystems to adapt to environmental stress through transformation. The study of community resiliencebuilds on these concepts, to understand positive responses to adversity at the level of families, communities and larger social systems. Despite historical and ongoing conditions of adversity and hardship many Aboriginal cultures and communities have survived and done well. In this review, we critically assess the various definitions of resilience as applied to individuals. We then examine resilience as applied to families, communities and larger social systems. We examine links between the concept of resilience and social capital. We then consider interventions that can promote resilience and well-being in Aboriginal communities. These include strengthening social capital, networks and support; revitalization of language, enhancing cultural identity and spirituality; supporting families and parents to insure healthy child development; enhancing local control and collective efficacy; building infrastructure (material, human and informational); increasing economic opportunity and diversification; and respecting human diversity. We also discuss methods of measuring community resilience, examining advantages and disadvantages to each method. Community resilience is a concept that resonates with Aboriginal perspectives because it focuses on collective strengths from an ecological or  systemic perspective.

  • Laurence J. Kirmayer, MD, FRCPC, Professor and Director, Division of Social and Transcultural Psychiatry, Department of Psychiatry, McGill University and Director, Culture &
  • Mental Health Research Unit, Department of Psychiatry, Jewish General Hospital
  • Megha Sehdev, Johns Hopkins University
  • Rob Whitley, PhD, Culture & Mental Health Research Unit, Institute of Community & Family Psychiatry, Jewish General Hospital and Dartmouth Psychiatric Research Center
  • Stéphane F. Dandeneau, PhD, Culture & Mental Health Research Unit, Institute of Community & Family Psychiatry, Jewish General Hospital
  • Colette Isaac, Program Coordinator, National Network for Aborigin

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