Adaptation and mental health during the transition to adulthood: Evolution and determinants before, during and after the COVID‑19 pandemic
Research about past global crises show that at times of economic and social upheaval, young adults, especially less privileged ones, disproportionately experience disruptions in their educational, work, and family life. Such disruptions in turn affect mental health, well-being, and life satisfaction, in ways that further entrench inequities. To avoid this scenario in the wake of the COVID‑19 pandemic, it is imperative that institutions and advocacy groups serving youth understand the shifting challenges faced by young adults during these uncertain times. According to youth organizations across OECD countries, better supporting youth resilience in a post-pandemic world requires “partnering with national statistical offices and research institutes to gather disaggregated evidence on the impact of the crisis by age group [and other sociodemographics] to track inequalities and inform decision-making.”1
This Insight partnership program answers this call. It aims to collaboratively create policy-relevant knowledge about how coming of age is changing among the “COVID-19 generation” of young Canadians. The partnership will serve to identify shifts in mental health and well-being by contrasting cohorts who transitioned to adulthood just before, during, and after the pandemic’s acute phase. The processes underlying these shifts in proximal educational, work, and family contexts will also be examined, while considering how risk and resilience operate differently depending on young people’s locations along key sociodemographic lines, defined by factors such as gender/sex, migratory status, ethnicity, and geography. This last point is critical if inequities are to be highlighted and ultimately addressed.
Three types of stakeholders who share an interest in young adults’ well-being and social integration, as well as a commitment towards greater equity, are involved in the partnership:
1) Youth-led advocacy groups operating at the provincial level, including Force Jeunesse, whose mission is geared towards equitable access to quality work across generations for all youth, regardless of sociodemographic backgrounds and profiles, and Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec a student union focusing on well-being and fair treatment in post-secondary education;
2) Public health agencies, provincial and regional (Institut national de santé publique du Québec, Direction régionale de la santé publique Montréal), each with branches specializing in youth well-being and youth mental health promotion via living context improvements;
3) Academic researchers trained in a variety of disciplines (education, psychology, sociology, public health) and experienced in partnership research, whose work focuses on equitably improving young people’s proximal living contexts and well-being.
At present, these stakeholders are connected within larger research structures (centres, chairs) whose missions are to foster fruitful interdisciplinary research-practice partnership, notably around youth issues. We propose to actualize this mission through a well-defined, jointly managed knowledge creation initiative exploiting existing data from Statistics Canada’s Longitudinal and International Study of Adults (LISA). LISA is well suited to answer the proposed research questions, as it is designed to capture the changing needs of Canadians in the 21st century to inform policy development in relation to education, employment, family, and well-being. Data from this rich longitudinal survey assembled at great cost to society over the past ten years has been underused, especially to assess youth-related issues. The present program will exploit the untapped opportunities LISA offers to help understand and alleviate the challenges that young adults face in this pivotal social moment.