Skip to content

Journal Article

Mental health and resilience at older ages: bouncing back after adversity in the British Household Panel Survey


Publication date



Background: Resilience is having good outcomes despite adversity and risk and could be described in terms of preserving the same level of the outcome or rebounding back to that level after an initial set back. Using the latter definition, resilience as 'bouncing back', this paper aims (1) to identify those members of a panel survey who demonstrated resilience, and (2) to identify the characteristics of the resilient individuals and the predictors of their resilience.
Methods: The study subjects were the 3581 participants in the British Household Panel Survey, selected from waves 1-14, who satisfied three requirements: exposure to an adversity; availability of consecutive General Health Questionnaire (GHQ)-12 scores; aged 50 or more years. The primary outcome variable was resilience, operationalised as a GHQ-12 score that increased after exposure to adversity and returned to its pre-exposure level in the next (after 1 year) wave of the survey. The adversities were: functional limitation; bereavement or marital separation; poverty.
Results: The prevalence of resilience, as defined, was 14.5%. After adjusting for regression to the mean, the GHQ-12 score of the resilient dropped by a mean of 3.6 points in the post-adversity period. Women predominated among the resilient, with this gender difference stronger among older women than younger women. The resilient were more likely to have high social support than the non-resilient, but otherwise were not different socioeconomically. High social support pre-adversity and during adversity increased the likelihood of resilience by 40-60% compared with those with low social support.
Conclusions: Resilience is relatively rare and favours older women. It is fostered by high levels of social support existing before exposure to adversity.

Published in

Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health


62 (11):987-991



Older People, Well Being, and Health



Online in A/S except current year; NCBI/PubMed alert; Web of Knowledge alert; Albert Sloman Library Periodicals *restricted to Univ. Essex registered users*


Research home

Research home


Latest findings, new research

Publications search

Search all research by subject and author


Researchers discuss their findings and what they mean for society


Background and context, methods and data, aims and outputs


Conferences, seminars and workshops

Survey methodology

Specialist research, practice and study

Taking the long view

ISER's annual report


Key research themes and areas of interest