Primary Sources: Ensuring Emotional Resilience in Homeless Youth

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Photograph of an African American young man smiling and leaning on a wall

"That Which Does Not Kill You Makes You Stronger: Runaway Youths' Resilience to Depression in the Family Context." American Journal of Orthospychiatry, Vol. 80, No. 2, April 2010.

What it's about: The authors surveyed 140 runaway youth, ages 12 to 17, who were at risk for depression. The goal was to learn more about the negative influences that might put homeless youth at risk for depression, and the positive influences that might protect them. The youth answered questions related to depression, mental health and coping skills. At least one parent or guardian for each youth was also surveyed.

Why read it: Runaway and homeless youth suffer from depression at high rates. This study attempts to pinpoint ways to combat depression among homeless young people.

Biggest takeaways for youth workers: The authors found that girls and boys respond differently to some positive and negative influences. For example, having depressed parents or caregivers made girls (but not boys) more likely to suffer depression. Girls were also more likely than boys to be depressed if their parents or guardians verbally abused them. At the same time, having a cohesive family protected girls from depression more than it did boys. The more negative influences in girls' lives, the more likely they were to become depressed. The same was not true of boys.

Ultimately, the researchers looked for sources of "resiliency," defined as a young person's ability to avoid depression despite a high risk of suffering from it. The authors recommend the “challenge model” of resiliency, which states that runaway and homeless youth may have the potential to “borrow strength from the risk” in their lives. Effective therapy using this model tries to help youth identify their competencies and survival skills while also giving them room to tell their stories of stress and victimization.

Additional references: The Hollywood Homeless Youth Partnership created a series of free e-learning courses, one of which focuses on strategies youth workers can use to build and support homeless youth's resiliency. A 2005 paper, “Adolescent Resilience: A Framework for Understanding Healthy Development in the Face of Risk,” contains more detailed discussion of the “resiliency models” that this study’s authors explore.

(Publications discussed here do not necessarily reflect the views of NCFY, FYSB or the Administration for Children and Families. Go to the NCFY literature database for abstracts of this and other publications.)

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