‘You just need to toughen up!?’ Exploring different understandings of the term resilience

By Emily Lloyd, Project Manager based at the University of Oxford. Emily works on collaborative initiatives across the Digital Youth Programme. Illustrations by Tom Bailey.

Background to the Digital Definitions and Debates project.

The Digital Youth programme brings together a talented team with a diverse range of expertise, skills and experiences. This includes young people with lived experience expertise and researchers from a range of disciplines. Our Digital Definitions and Debates project makes the most of the opportunity this diversity in expertise and experience offers.

We are:

  • Compiling and creating short and clear explanations of commonly used language in Digital Youth mental health research
  • Hosting workshops to share and explore our understandings of more complex and contested terms where different perspectives are important.

We hope that this project will:

  • Build understanding, facilitate meaningful conversations and enable further collaboration across our Digital Youth team.
  • Provide a useful resource for Digital Youth team members and beyond.
Resilience workshop

We held a workshop on the 27th of September 2023 bringing together young people from the Sprouting Minds Youth Advisory team and researchers from the University of Nottingham, Kings College London, City University of London, Queen Mary’s University London and the University of Oxford.

In preparation for this workshop we worked with the leadership team, Sprouting Minds and our Early Career Researcher group to compile a list of terms commonly used in digital youth mental health research.

At the start of the workshop the participants prioritised the focus of the workshop. We decided to focus on the terms ‘resilience’ and ‘digital resilience’ both of which are commonly used in the Digital Youth programme.

To start, we worked in 3 separate groups, each exploring the concepts and preparing to share their thoughts with the wider group of colleagues in a creative way.

One group shared a flipchart outlining a broad and holistic understanding of resilience and the related psychological concepts and broad range of factors involved.

The Sprouting Minds group used many images from magazines and shared a number of metaphors for what resilience meant to them.

The final group of researchers presented a role play which took a critical view on how the term resilience is increasingly used in settings such as school assemblies. They noted that the concept of resilience can be used to emphasise ideas of mental health difficulties being personal ‘failures’ that require individuals to ‘toughen up’.

All in all, the conversations really highlighted the broad and sometimes conflicting ways that the term resilience is understood. A critical consideration for the Digital Youth programme team and wider colleagues.

The next step for the project is a second creative and collaborative workshop in February 2024.

Illustrations copyright Tom Bailey @mrtombailey