Bouncing Back During COVID-19

An interview with Dr. Emily Berger on Australia, COVID-19, and resilience.

Posted Sep 17, 2020

Emily Berger, used with permission
Source: Emily Berger, used with permission

Fostering resilience has been a focus of many communities across the globe during the COVID-19 pandemic. The context, circumstances, and stressors have differed between these communities as well as how they have been impacted. 

Dr. Emily Berger is an Educational and Developmental Psychologist and Lecturer in the Faculty of Education at Monash University. She is also an Adjunct Research Fellow with its School of Rural Health. Dr. Berger has worked on various child and adolescent mental health and trauma-related research projects and continues to practice as a psychologist with children, adolescents and families.  

Her recent study focuses on how resilience has been important to Australia’s experience and lessons learned from that experience. 

Jamie Aten: How would you personally describe the COVID-19 situation in Australia?

Emily Berger: The COVID-19 pandemic has been different for different people in different areas in Australia. For many Victorians, we have faced a second lockdown period and stage four restrictions, including mandatory face masks, a nightly curfew, and only essential workers permitted to travel for work. I believe that we have seen innovation regarding the ways that we work, study, and relate to each other, but there are also those of us who have experienced greater hardship during COVID-19. I am concerned about children and families living in high-risk environments who are unable to access support or respite from stressors that they may have at home, for older people, people who live alone, and those who have lost their jobs and who are unsure of how to move forward.

JA: What are some ways understanding Australia's COVID-19 situation can help us live more resiliently?

EB: Resilience is often defined as our capacity to cope and "bounce back" from adversity and challenging life circumstances. Research shows that while people's mental health can be negatively impacted by pandemics and other adverse events, they often show minimal signs of distress and are able to bounce back after the event has ceased. Multiple factors have been suggested in the literature to promote resilience, including: adaptability to the situation, gratitude for one's life, competence to manage adversity, social support, optimism about the future, life purpose, awareness of one's own skills, and self-acceptance, among other factors. We can take these factors and decide how each can be used in small ways to improve the mental health of people during COVID-19.

JA: What are some ways people can cultivate resilience amidst this pandemic?

EB: There are several models and ideas describing how resilience can be cultivated. Some of these areas include social support and connectedness to others, routines and engaging in activities, exercise and a healthy lifestyle, and a person's sense of their own abilities and capacity to control their circumstances. We can see from this list that several of these factors may have been impacted and reduced for people during COVID-19, such as a decreased capacity to engage with normal daily activities and to socialise with others, and a decrease in self-purpose and self-efficacy related to losing employment. It is important that people are encouraged and supported to think about how they can cultivate routines, purpose, social engagement, and develop a sense of optimism about their future and the circumstances surrounding COVID-19.

JA: Any advice for how we might use what you have learned to support a friend or loved one struggling with a difficult life situation?

EB: It is important that we learn how to connect with people when speaking over the phone or via teleconferencing in the same way that we would have when supporting people face-to-face. This might involve not becoming distracted with home duties, like cooking or dealing with children when we are speaking over the phone with family and friends. Scheduling in time to speak with family and friends and maybe sharing a meal or activity with someone via teleconferencing are other important steps to connect meaningfully with our loved ones at this time. It is important to remember that people are currently facing a major ongoing life stressor which will be limiting their capacity to manage further stressors, so supporting and checking in with people on a regular basis is essential. 

JA: What are you currently working on that you might like to share about?

EB: Currently we are working on research with educators, counsellors and psychologists, and the community around the mental health impacts of COVID-19. We are trying to understand the strengths and innovation that people and professionals have developed due to COVID-19, but also to understand the mental health implications for people at this time and how services can continue to grow to meet the mental health needs of children and families. We are all working to ensure that our research can inform policy, practice, and further research in terms of managing people's mental health as a result of future pandemic situations or in situations involving other community-wide adverse events.

References

Berger, E., & Reupert, A. (2020). The COVID-19 pandemic in Australia: Lessons learnt. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 12(5), 494-496. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/tra0000722