Nebraska Cooperative Fish & Wildlife Research Unit


Date of this Version



Angeler et al. Int J Bipolar Disord (2018) 6:2

doi 10.1186/s40345-017-0112-6


© The Author(s) 2018. This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License


Background: The term resilience describes stress–response patterns of subjects across scientific disciplines. In ecology, advances have been made to clearly distinguish resilience definitions based on underlying mechanistic assumptions. Engineering resilience (rebound) is used for describing the ability of subjects to recover from adverse conditions (disturbances), and is the rate of recovery. In contrast, the ecological resilience definition considers a systemic change: when complex systems (including humans) respond to disturbances by reorganizing into a new regime (stable state) where structural and functional aspects have fundamentally changed relative to the prior regime. In this context, resilience is an emergent property of complex systems. We argue that both resilience definitions and uses are appropriate in psychology and psychiatry, but although the differences are subtle, the implications and uses are profoundly different.

Methods: We borrow from the field of ecology to discuss resilience concepts in the mental health sciences.

Results: In psychology and psychiatry, the prevailing view of resilience is adaptation to, coping with, and recovery (engineering resilience) from adverse social and environmental conditions. Ecological resilience may be useful for describing vulnerability, onset, and the irreversibility patterns of mental disorders. We discuss this in the context of bipolar disorder.

Conclusion: Rebound, adaptation, and coping are processes that are subsumed within the broader systemic organization of humans, from which ecological resilience emanates. Discerning resilience concepts in psychology and psychiatry has potential for a mechanistically appropriate contextualization of mental disorders at large. This might contribute to a refinement of theory and contextualize clinical practice within the broader systemic functioning of mental illnesses.