Resilience in Australian indigenous and non-indigenous adolescents

Thomas, H 2007, Resilience in Australian indigenous and non-indigenous adolescents, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Health Sciences, RMIT University.


Document type: Thesis
Collection: Theses

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Title Resilience in Australian indigenous and non-indigenous adolescents
Author(s) Thomas, H
Year 2007
Abstract Resilience is a topical and widely researched construct in the field of developmental psychopathology, yet it has not been examined systematically with Australian Indigenous adolescents despite their high level of risk. Indigenous adolescents experience disproportionate disadvantage and associated poorer health and well-being outcomes compared with their non-Indigenous peers. Thus the protective factors or predictors of resilience that ameliorate the negative effects of risk in this subgroup are an important area of exploration. Adolescence is a critical period for examining resilience given the increased vulnerability to mental health problems during this time.

The construct of resilience incorporates positive adaptation despite exposure to risk or adversity. Of interest to this thesis are the psychosocial predictors of resilience, or protective factors, which act to ameliorate the negative effects of stress. Three widely established predictors of resilience were examined: The coping methods used by adolescents in response to stress, the social support received from family and community, and the multidimensional self-concept of adolescents.

These predictors were compared in a sample of 304 Australian non-Indigenous (n = 245) and Indigenous (n = 59) adolescents, aged 12-18 years, living in Victoria. Using a methodological framework developed for this study, based on a full classification resilience model, resilience was assessed by examining stress (negative stressful life events and daily hassles) and adaptation (internalising, externalising and other mental health symptoms). Participants were classified into four resilience groups based on their stress (high or low) and adaptation (positive or negative): resilient (high stress, positive adaptation), negative expected (high stress, negative adaptation), positive expected (low stress, positive adaptation), or poor copers (low stress, negative adaptation). Results were examined separately for non-Indigenous and Indigenous participants. Cultural comparisons of the two groups were then performed.

Results revealed that higher stress levels were strongly associated with more internalising, externalising and other mental health problems. The impact of daily hassles was a strong predictor of adaptation, particularly for Indigenous participants. Indigenous participants reported higher levels of stress and more negative adaptation by comparison with non-Indigenous participants. 2 a strong predictor of positive adaptation and resilience for non-Indigenous adolescents but not for Indigenous adolescents. No cultural differences in Solving the Problem coping were revealed. Results indicated that Reference to Others was a maladaptive coping method in relation to resilience. Non-Productive coping methods (e.g., avoidance and substance use) were also found to be maladaptive, and used more by Indigenous than non-Indigenous participants.

Social support only predicted resilience for non-Indigenous participants who experienced very high levels of stress. Contrary to expectations, social support did not discriminate among the Indigenous resilience groups and no significant cultural differences were revealed for this variable. Self-concept was strongly related to resilience and positive adaptation for non- Indigenous participants, although this was not the case for Indigenous participants. Cultural comparisons, however, revealed that positive self-concept was associated with positive adaptation for both non-Indigenous and Indigenous groups. While differences between non- Indigenous and Indigenous participants on several self-concept domains were revealed, the total self-concept of non-Indigenous and Indigenous participants did not differ.

The results of this study revealed both similarities and differences in the relationships between the three predictors investigated and the resilience of non-Indigenous and Indigenous adolescents. These findings can inform interventions aimed at promoting resilience and wellbeing in Australian young people. In particular, the results of this study make some progress toward informing culturally appropriate interventions to promote and strengthen the resilience of Indigenous young people.

It is recommended that future research examine the processes by which protective factors operate to ameliorate stress and promote positive adolescent adaptation. Limitations of this thesis include the small Indigenous sample size and issues regarding data collection and the measures used to assess resilience.
Degree Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Institution RMIT University
School, Department or Centre Health Sciences
Keyword(s) Australian aborigines
Resilience (Personality trait) in adolescence
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