Resilient youth, resilient society

As we dive into a discussion with Elana Ludman the pace slows down, and we tune in to the present moment. She starts off: “Resilience is part of being well.” A sense of calm permeates her voice, radiating through the phone, as we dive more deeply into this idea.

Much research on psychological resilience has been done around the world. It reveals that some people are better able to cope with change or difficult situations.

Ludman’s work with foundations in mental health gives her a panoramic perspective on resilience.

 “Resilience is part nature and part nurture. It starts at a young age. That’s why helping children and young people learn skills to build their own resilience is essential. We know that we are in a period of rapid change and that we will need to constantly adapt, adjust and be flexible. We also know that the pandemic will not be the last global crisis. How do we help build a healthier population for the future? One way is by building resiliency skills into school curriculum. Another is by helping ensure young people have access to the right support.”

The Graham Boeckh Foundation, where she works, focuses on integrated models of care and collaboration to improve youth wellbeing. One example she uses is an “integrated youth hub” or one-stop-shop for youth, which includes services for mental health, substance use, housing, employment, income assistance, as well as after school and peer support. Partners in Chatham-Kent (in South Western Ontario), which has an integrated youth hub, have told Elana that throughout the pandemic the hub has enabled young people to get the help and support they need. Other communities, just a few kilometres away, have seen their emergency room visits for youth mental health problems skyrocket.

Elana explains: “The Foundation believes that integration leads to better outcomes. In this approach, a young person avoids repeating their story to different service providers, and the service providers work together to put the young person at the centre of care. This makes both the individual and the organization more resilient.”

More generally, she thinks of resilience and wellbeing across a continuum: “At different moments in one’s life, each person may need a variety of external supports. For example, for some people, they may benefit from meditation apps or online services to help them feel well. For others, dealing with high levels of burnout or anxiety, it might require seeking professional help.”

She emphasizes that one of the difficulties in the area of mental health is that even in communities that have services available, how they are organized — in an accessible and strategic way — requires improvement.

Although the pandemic has exacerbated mental health problems, it has also emphasized the importance of collaborative mental health approaches to improve resiliency and wellbeing. In her work with the Mental Health and Wellness Affinity Group, a group of 30 private and corporate foundations who invest in mental health in Canada, Elana noticed that many foundations did not alter their strategy when COVID-19 started. This is in part due to the fact that many funders were already strategically addressing mental health issues in a manner that focused on long-term impact.

As foundations and governments continue to work together to develop integrated approaches, Ludman is hopeful: “It has become okay to ask for help and now more than ever people are committed to working together to build the supports and systems to be mentally healthy and resilient.”


Elana Ludman is the Vice President, Youth Mental Health, at the Graham Boeckh Foundation, a private family foundation that aims to bring about transformational change to improve the lives of people with or at risk of mental illness. She is also the co-chair of the Mental Health and Wellness Affinity Group that seeks to mobilize philanthropic resources to strengthen the Mental Health and Wellness sector in Canada.

Photos provided by the Graham Boeckh Foundation.