Halifax Researcher Raises Alarm Bell over Concerningly Low Life Satisfaction among Canada’s Disabled Youth, Calls for A New Resilience-based Approach to Services

May 23, 2021

Young people with disabilities living in Canada are reporting significantly lower levels of life satisfaction compared to their peers, and without action to improve the way support services are delivered, their mental health and general well-being may suffer.

That’s the finding of a recent study led by leading Halifax-based youth and disability scholar Ami Goulden, who is calling for a paradigm shift when it comes to delivering healthcare and community-based programs for disabled youth, urging for more emphasis to be placed on nurturing relationships and connections, and cultivating resilience.

In a first-of-its-kind Canadian study, Goulden, a social worker and PhD candidate in University of Toronto’s Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work, and her fellow researchers looked at data from the 2016 Canadian General Social Survey to uncover how youth aged 15 to 24 who self-report having a disability view life satisfaction, and whether resilience could play a role in helping to shape that view.

“Even after controlling for health status, gender, income, stress level and visible minority status, we found that young Canadians living with disabilities have a significantly lower perception of their quality of life than their peers,” said Goulden, adding that life satisfaction is an important measure because it is closely linked to rates of suicidal ideation and poor mental health. “At the same time, we discovered that as their resilience increased, their level of life satisfaction rapidly increased, quickly closing that gap,” she added.

Resilience was measured using questions related to hope, confidence, future prospects and community supports available. Goulden explained that resilience is not a personality trait, but rather a young person’s ability to navigate resources in their environment, including their relationships with families, economies, communities and organizations.

“When we consider resilience a trait, we neglect the individual’s strengths and the importance of supporting healthy relationships across the lifespan,” Goulden explained. “Our analysis suggests that when healthcare and service providers focus more on the client in their environment than the disability itself, including having conversations about quality of life and working to build relationships, the more resilient disabled youth can become, leading to higher life satisfaction.”

Based on the study’s findings, Goulden is recommending that young people be included in  advisory and collaborative roles in the design, development and delivery of services, that services incorporate future-oriented goal planning and transition planning, and that organizations provide more accessible and inclusive opportunities for young people with disabilities to build meaningful relationships.

“These are tangible strategies that providers in the community can adopt today,” she said. “Any service provider working with young people in Canada can have conversations about life satisfaction and well-being, and start thinking about how to integrate more components of resilience in their work. It’s an important, preventative step that we need to take.”