Relationships between psychosocial resilience and physical health status of Western Australian urban Aboriginal youth.


Background: Psychosocial processes are implicated as mediators of racial/ethnic health disparities via dysregulation of physiological responses to stress. Our aim was to investigate the extent to which factors previously documented as buffering the impact of high-risk family environments on Aboriginal youths’ psychosocial functioning were similarly beneficial for their physical health status. Method and Results: We examined the relationship between psychosocial resilience and physical health of urban Aboriginal youth (12-17 years, n = 677) drawn from a representative survey of Western Australian Aboriginal children and their families. A composite variable of psychosocial resilient status, derived by cross-classifying youth by high/low family risk exposure and normal/ abnormal psychosocial functioning, resulted in four groups- Resilient, Less Resilient, Expected Good and Vulnerable. Separate logistic regression modeling for high and low risk exposed youth revealed that Resilient youth were significantly more likely to have lower self-reported asthma symptoms (OR 3.48, p < .001) and carer reported lifetime health problems (OR 1.76, p < .04) than Less Resilient youth. Conclusion: The findings are consistent with biopsychosocial models and provide a more nuanced understanding of the patterns of risks, resources and adaptation that impact on the physical health of Aboriginal youth. The results support the posited biological pathways between chronic stress and physical health, and identify the protective role of social connections impacting not only psychosocial function but also physical health. Using a resilience framework may identify potent protective factors otherwise undetected in aggregated analyses, offering important insights to augment general public health prevention strategies.