Resources for Building Psychosocial Resilience

Thank you for considering including your signature on the International Transformational Resilience Coalition (ITRC) Call To Action For U.S. and World Leaders To Proactively Address the Adverse Psychological and Social Impacts of Climate Disruption. This site provides suggestions and resources for building psychosocial resilience for climate change. We also encourage you to add your thoughts and resources to the discussion board found here.

The Federal and State Role in Building Psychosocial Resilience

National and state (provincial) governments can play an important role in building psychosocial resilience for climate change by taking these actions:

  • Through Federal and State Policies, Executive Action, and Appropriations Make Preventative Psychosocial Resilience Education Programs as Common as Reading and Writing Instruction. 
    Legislation and Executive Action at the national and state levels authorizing psychosocial resilience building education and training programs would clarify the importance of this form of education. The policies authorizing Mental Health First Aid programs in the U.S. provide a model for this type of authorization. Mental Health First Aid, which trains people to identify early signs of mental illness, is now offered across the U.S. At the federal level the Mental Health First Aid Act of 2013 (S. 153/H.R. 274) would authorize $20 million in grants to fund Mental Health First Aid training programs around the country. President Obama’s FY 2014 budget provided $15 million for a new grant program to provide Mental Health First Aid training as a part of his Now is the Time initiative. According to the National Council for Behavioral Health, at the state level in the 2013-2014 legislative session 21 states passed legislation or initiated executive programs related to Mental Health First Aid.
    A similar push for legislation and/or executive authorization along with appropriate funding for preventative psychosocial resilience building programs would help build the nation’s capacity to prevent adverse psychological and social impacts due to climate change—and many other types of adversity as well.
  • Provide Funding to Train Teachers, Non-Profit, and Civic Leaders to Teach Preventative Psychosocial Resilience Education Programs.
    Funding to train teachers who work with youth as well as non-profit mental health organizations, emergency responders, and others to teach preventative psychosocial resilience building skills is essential to build widespread capacity for this type of education. A model for this type of funding is the grant program administered by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) through its Now is the Time Project AWARE (Advancing Wellness and Resilience in Education) and Mental Health First Aid training programs. 
  • Increase the Capacity of Each Nation’s Mental Health, Physical Health, and Emergency Management Infrastructure to Respond to the Adverse Psychosocial Impacts of Climate Change.
    The mental health, physical health, and emergency management infrastructure in the U.S. and most other nations is woefully unprepared to deal with the rise in anxiety, depression, anger, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as well as physical health problems and social ills such as crime and violence that can be expected as climate-enhanced impacts become more pronounced. Policies and programs should be rapidly improved to build the infrastructure required to respond to adverse climate change-enhanced psychosocial impacts.  

Building Psychosocial Resilience in Communities

As seen recently in Ferguson, Missouri and elsewhere, communities can adopt fear-based fight, flee or freeze reactions when they experience acute traumatic events or chronic toxic stresses. When this happens entire communities can become “trauma-organized,” meaning they adopt rigid and punitive policies, programs, or social norms intended to protect themselves from harm. More often than not, however, the exact opposite results—community members become even more fearful which reduces their capacity to cope constructively with adversity and stress. As the impacts of climate change grow an increasing number of communities will be at risk of becoming trauma-organized.

A number of steps can be taken to prevent these types of reactions and help communities become trauma-informed resilience-enhancing entities:

  • Launch Local Resilience Building Education Programs: K-12 and adult educational programs can be offered to help individuals and groups understand how trauma and stress affect the mind and body and how, without preventative measures, climate-enhanced trauma and stress can cause them and their community to become trauma-organized.
  • Offer Skill Building Programs: Through skill building programs of many types private, non-profit, and public organizations can be taught how to recognize when they are trauma-organized and how to make the shift to trauma-informed resilience-enhancing entities.
  • Build Local Infrastructure: Local mental health, physical health, emergency response, social service, food security, energy, police, fire and other core services in the community should be strengthened to enable them to respond to climate-enhanced adversities and provide post-trauma psychosocial treatment programs.
  • Establish Community Discussion Groups:  to share stories of individual, group, and organizational resilience and learn skills to be more resilient.

Building Personal Resilience

When individuals experience acute traumas or chronic toxic stresses their body and mind become hyperaroused and they adopt fear-based fight, flee or freeze behaviors. Personal psychosocial resilience can be thought of as the capacity of an individual to cope with adversity in ways that lead to learning and growth rather than reacting in ways that harm other people, the natural environment, or yourself. A number of steps can be taken to build personal psychosocial resilience.

  • Learn Skills to Calm Your Emotions and Thoughts: One of the most important steps is to learn how to calm your emotions and thoughts in the midst of climate-enhanced and other types of stress and adversity. Body-based (somatic), breath-based (mindfulness), and thought-based (cognitive) skills, as well as enhanced compassion, altruism, thankfulness, and other techniques can be used to accomplish this goal.
  • Learn Skills to Find Meaning and Purpose in Life: Establishing and maintaining a clear sense of meaning and purpose in life also helps build personal resilience. Clarifying what is truly meaningful to you and finding ways to maintain meaning, purpose, and direction in life even in the midst of climate-enhanced adversities builds resilience.
  • Strengthen Social Support Networks: Another important step is to strengthen and expand your social support network. The more family members and close friends that you can count on to provide physical help and emotional support and serve as a “true ally” when you experience climate-enhanced adversity the more resilient you are likely to be.
  • Fortify Local Food, Water, Energy and Other Core Systems: Building the capacity of local food, water, and energy systems as well educational, mental health, physical health, emergency response, and other key support services in your community to withstand and adapt enhances the ability of individuals to cope and remain resilient in the face of climate and other types of adversity.

Learn More About Building Psychosocial Resilience

* Read and participate in our discussion board on building resilience.
* Check out our lists of books and research studies on the topic.