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In Public Health, It's All About Resilience

Resilience, individual to global, is at the core of the public health mission.

By Brian W. Simpson • Illustration by Dmitri Guzhanin/Getty Images

“Pick up the pieces and keep on moving.”

I drop that into conversation now and again with my kids, hoping that seed of parental advice will take root in their consciousness. I want that idea to be part of them. 

Because they will need it. 

Even with the advantages many of us enjoy, life is harsh. You will be hurt. You will suffer disappointments, pain and shocks. You will lose loved ones. You will have to survive and move forward.

Resilience, as Karen Bandeen-Roche succinctly defines it in conversation with our managing editor Melissa Hartman on page 16, is “the ability to recover from stressors.” It’s a beautiful word imbued with hope and strength—the necessary ingredients for a successful life. 

I also think it’s an essential part of public health. What do vaccines do? Amp up your immune response against viral or bacterial invaders. Why is infant and child nutrition a priority? It builds up the body’s ability to preserve itself against future challenges. The more resilient we are, the greater our chances for survival as individuals and a species.

Indeed, resilience suffuses this magazine issue. Think of Holly Wilcox’s efforts to help youths avoid suicide (page 28), Priya Duggal’s research to uncover our inner resistance to pathogens (page 32) and public health legend Henry Mosley’s personal and professional steadfastness (page 40).

Maybe we should rebrand public health as public resilience. That’s what it’s all about.