The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a wide range of negative impacts on physical and mental health among individuals (Shaukat and Raffat, 2020; Findlay & Cohen, 2020) including decreased physical activity and well-being (Lesser and Nienphuis, 2020), increased depression and anxiety (Porter et al., 2021), loneliness and social isolation (Hwang et al., 2020), and stress associated with financial worries (Hertz-Palmor et al., 2021).
However, the impacts of the pandemic are not identical across different stages of the life course. Life course theory suggests that the consequences of events vary according to their timing in a person’s life.
As a result, individuals may be affected differently by the same event (e.g., in this case COVID-19) depending on when it occurs in the life course (Elder, 2004; George, 1993, 2013). In accordance with this, studies have shown that youth experience greater negative impacts on their mental health due to COVID-19 (Findlay et al., 2020; Zheng et al., 2021; Watkins-Martin, 2021). Findlay et al. (2020), for example, noticed that youth (15-24 years) in Canada were 76.0% less likely to report excellent or very good mental health during COVID-19 pandemic than those aged 65 years and older even after adjusting for important factors that influence mental health. Similarly, Bulloch et al. (2021) revealed that, among Canadians, younger age groups (15-24 years) had the highest percentages of reporting fair/poor mental health and anxiety symptoms during the COVID-19 pandemic.
As a response to the above challenges and dynamics, this research aims to examine the broader impacts of COVID-19 upon young adults in Canada (age 18-25) with a particular emphasis upon the causal linkages between structural or systemic disruptions triggered by the Pandemic (specifically economic (employment) and educational (closures, shifts to online courses) changes) that trigger both short-term and acute (proximal) changes in mental health (stress, anxiety and depression), but may also drive meso-level changes (such as a return to, or consolidation of, familial living arrangements) that can both attenuate and/or compound mental health status (stress, anxiety, and depression, but also post-traumatic stress or acute events related to domestic abuse and gendered violence (Czeisler et al., 2020; Czeisler et al., 2021; Gadermann et al., 2021; Pérès et al., 2021).
This research is particularly concerned with improving our understanding of the systems, meso, and individual (micro) level impacts of COVID-19 upon key and vulnerable sub-populations, young adults who are from, living in, or returned to rural, ex-urban and remote communities (i.e., communities located 50km or more from urban centres, but also with populations of 25,000 or less (Statistics Canada’s definition of “Rural” refers to all areas that are outside of census metropolitan areas (CMAs) and census agglomeration (CAs) (Statistics Canada, 2021). More specifically, this research will assess the following research questions:
- How do socio-demographic variables compound the mental health impacts of COVID in Canada?
- What are the characteristics of educational, economic and familial disruption that compound mental health impacts across different sub-populations of young adults?
- To what extent gender moderates the influence of socio-demographic disruptions on mental health among young adults in Canada?
- How do we situate the social dynamics of rural vs urban at a familial and systems level? How do related factors (distance, isolation, religious orientation/political orientation) impact mental health in these settings?
- What strategies do young adults adapt to become resilient to the mental health impacts of COVID-19? Do these coping strategies among young adults vary significantly across their socio-demographic characteristics and geographic location (rural-urban, and province)?