Authored by Bob Doppelt
Edited by Christine da Rosa & Christian Thompson
Designed by Laura Braden
This handbook describes the urgent need and methods involved with using a public health approach to build population-level mental wellness and what we call “transformational resilience” to prevent and heal mental health and psychosocial struggles generated by the climate emergency and other adversities
This is needed because, without rapid monumental global-scale changes, global temperatures will very soon rise over 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 Celsius) above pre-industrial levels and unleash relentless harm to nature and human society. In different times, ways, and magnitudes, the impacts will severely stress or traumatize nearly everyone and frequently activate profoundly harmful personal, family, and social reactions.
To prevent the traumas and heal those that occur, we must swiftly expand how mental health and psychosocial struggles are addressed by actively engaging communities using a public health approach to build population-level mental wellness and transformational resilience for relentless stresses and adversities.
What does a public health approach to mental wellness and transformational resilience involve?
Just like all public health approaches, it focuses on the entire population, not merely on individuals with symptoms of pathology or groups deemed to be high-risk. Everyone can be fully included by using variations of proportionate universalism and life-course approaches. We must think and respond through a population lens, not an individual one. Our mantra must be “leave no one behind.”
A public health approach to mental wellness and transformational resilience also prioritizes preventing social, psychological, and emotional suffering before it emerges, not merely treating it after it appears, and it integrates group and community-minded healing methods into the prevention strategies. We must always remember that “prevention is the cure.”
This is accomplished by strengthening “protective factors”—social supports, local resources, individual and collective resilience skills, and more—that build and sustain healthy thinking and behaviors. When those factors also empower people to use painful experiences as catalysts to join with others to build socially, economically, and ecologically healthy, just, and regenerative conditions, they often find new meaning, purpose, and hope in life.
This is what we call transformational resilience. It can mobilize the indomitable spirit and fierce determination inherent in most humans to make what previously seemed impossible become reality. We must “enhance strengths, resources, learning, and growth.”
Ample research shows that mental wellness and transformational resilience can be enhanced.
The most effective way to do this is to establish the horizontal social infrastructure in communities—that can be called a Resilience Coordinating Network (RCN)--that engages local neighborhood leaders, civic groups, and non-profit, private, and public organizations in planning and implementing strategies that, in their unique ways, strengthen the capacity of all residents for mental wellness and transformational resilience.
Our research identified five foundation areas these community initiatives need to focus on for the climate emergency:
Organize both “strong” and “weak” social connections and support networks throughout the community;
Actively engage residents in making a “just transition” by creating healthy, equitable, low/zero emission, and climate-resilient local physical, economic, and ecological conditions;
Build universal literacy about mental wellness and transformational resilience by helping everyone become trauma and resilience-informed;
Continually involve residents in activities that enhance mental wellness and resilience during adversities, such as laughing often and practicing forgiveness;
Establish ongoing group- and community-minded opportunities for residents to heal their traumas, such as healing circles.
The downloadable PDF describes these five foundational areas in greater depth.