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The Interplay Between Individual and Community Resilience June 2024


The Interplay between Individual and Community Resilience

Jul 05, 2024
Crisis Lab
The Interplay between Individual and Community Resilience

By Daniel P. AldrichCraig KatzTalia Levanon

With multiple ongoing conflicts around the world - including Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the Hamas-Israel war - as well as increasingly frequent natural hazards such as hurricanes, flooding, and heat waves, civilian populations face major stressors and shocks.

Those who survive initial shocks may struggle to regain a sense of normalcy through loss of homes, livelihoods, and loved ones. In this context, we envision individual and community resilience as two interconnected yet distinct concepts that play a crucial role in the aftermath of any crisis.

While their approaches and areas of focus differ significantly, they share a common goal of fostering recovery and adaptation. They overlap and complement each other in several ways.

Individual resilience refers to the ability to recover, grow, and adapt following adversity or challenges of any kind. It involves a range of ways of experiencing oneself and the world and of acting in the world that can help individuals navigate challenging circumstances.

Examples of resilience factors include being realistically optimistic, facing one’s fears, seeking support from social networks, and finding meaning while moving through the experience. Various factors influence individual resilience, including prior exposure to trauma, socioeconomic status, demographic characteristics, preparedness and access to mental health support.

Community resilience, on the other hand, emphasizes the collective capacity of a community to prepare for, withstand, and transform from a crisis. It encompasses the social, cultural, and institutional resources that communities can leverage to support their members and facilitate recovery.

Core mechanisms that promote community resilience include strong social networks, effective leadership, shared knowledge and resources, and a sense of collective identity, all of which generate trust. Communities that lack bonding and bridging social capital - homogeneous and heterogeneous ties, respectively - and experience divisions due to ethnicity, race, or religion often struggle to achieve shared resilience.

The interplay between individual and community resilience is complex and multifaceted.

While individual resilience is essential for personal well-being, it is also deeply influenced by the community context. Supportive social networks, access to shared resources, a shared language of coping, and a mutual sense of belonging can significantly enhance an individual's ability to cope with adversity.

Conversely, community resilience is built upon the foundation of individual resilience, as the strength of a community is derived from the collective strength of its members. If many evacuated community members are unwilling to return home, their absence can hinder the recovery of those who have returned.

So how can the interplay between individual and community resilience shape long-term recovery after a crisis, and what strategies can enhance both to better prepare for future challenges?

In the aftermath of a crisis, both individual and community resilience are critical for long-term recovery. Individuals need support to address their physical as well as psychological and emotional needs, while communities need to mobilize resources and coordinate efforts to rebuild and adapt. Understanding the interdependence of individual and community resilience can lead to more effective interventions that support the needs of both individuals and communities.

For instance, integrating immediate and long-term mental health services with medical services can increase accessibility for individuals and foster a sense of community cohesion. Co-locating these services in a communal space - whether a health clinic, library, or school - can increase the likelihood that community members will engage with them. Similarly, initiatives that promote and engage with social infrastructure - the places and spaces where we build trust and connections, such as parks, places of worship, public spaces, and social businesses - scaffold interactions and encourage the reformation and reinforcement of ties. Further, mechanisms that encourage shared knowledge and identity can enhance community resilience while also providing individuals with the resources and support they need to recover.

An examination of some of the resilience promoting behaviors reveals the reciprocity between individual and community resilience. Almost every individual resilience factor involves at least one approach that relies on the people and community around the individual. Spending time with optimistic and supportive people can promote realistic optimism. Vital cognitive flexibility around a trauma is enhanced by reaching out to other people who have gone through a similar situation as well as by giving back and participating in community service following the trauma. Facing fear or grief, rather than avoiding them and causing them to persist or worsen, can be made easier by doing it with the support of others. All important social support involves investing effort in both seeking out and in offering support.  A resilient community is sure to boast resilient role models for people to look to as examples.

Getting involved in activities that enable the individual to feel connected to something greater than themselves reflects a dimension of spirituality someone can fulfill by giving back to their community. Meaning can be found by locating one’s place in the legacy and history of their community and then adding to it. And, if in times of crisis circumstances cause someone to act in ways that violate their moral compass, they can heal their moral injury by sharing their distress with trusted friends, family, or colleagues rather than wrestling with it alone. Societies need consistent strategies which strengthen the relationships and language between individuals and community so that they are prepared for emergencies.

With future shocks and crises all but guaranteed, societies need to invest resources in preparing for mass migration, displacement, and accompanying mental health crises. By recognizing that we can actively develop resilience at the individual and community levels, societies can better prepare for a future which will likely see increasing levels of crises and disasters.

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