The term resilience has been widely used in recent years. Fundamentally, it refers to a person’s ability to adapt successfully to acute stress, trauma or chronic forms of adversity (e.g. Masten, 2014). However, there are various understandings of resilience. While, for example, some researchers conceive of resilience as a multiply determined developmental process that is not fixed (Cicchetti and Blender, 2006; Luthar and Cicchetti, 2000; Rutter, 2012; Sapienza and Masten, 2011), others use measures of trait resilience, which favours the assumption that people are resilient primarily because of their personal characteristics (e.g. Connor and Davidson, 2003). Although no consensus exists on how to define or measure resilience, resilience is more than a popular term. It has the potential for augmenting the understanding of protective processes. Investigation of these processes can lead to the expansion of developmental theory and useful avenues for intervention (Luthar and Cicchetti, 2000).

Young refugees1 are considered to be an extremely vulnerable group because of the psychological distress caused by traumatic experiences in their country of origin and during the flight, the waiting period in asylum seekers’ centres (ASCs) and the adaptation to a new life and culture in the host country (e.g. Bean et al., 2007). Consequently, studying adverse outcomes of these experiences has been the predominant aim of research on refugees for a long time (Lustig et al., 2004; Mohaupt, 2008). Indeed, several studies have shown that young refugees are at increased risk for a range of psychological problems, including posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression (Bronstein and Montgomery, 2011; Fazel et al., 2005).

Nevertheless, it appears misplaced to consider young refugees’ mental health problems as proof of lack of resilience because some of these may be considered as normal reactions to abnormal circumstances (Kleber, 1995; Papadopoulos, 1999). Also, Bonanno and Diminich (2013) emphasize that in the context of chronic and extreme adversity, gradual movement towards healthy adjustment may be regarded as resilience. Montgomery (2010) found that, while many young refugees showed high levels of psychological problems at arrival in Denmark, after 8–9years these problems were significantly decreased in most of them. Vulnerability and resilience may not always be opposite poles of the same continuum (Fergus and Zimmerman, 2005). Looking from a resilience perspective at young refugees may be meaningful for this group that has its whole future ahead.

Resource preview