Researchers Caroline Ritter, Gemma Postill among leading line-up of speakers at Congress 2022, Canada’s largest humanities and social sciences conference, taking place virtually May 12-20
Charlottetown, PEI, May 15, 2022 – At the start of the pandemic, Prince Edward Island was considered among the safest regions in the world given its low rates of COVID-19, but that didn’t stop its young people from feeling the effects of the illness. On the contrary, the negative impact to their lives has been profound, whether they’ve contracted the virus or not.
That’s the finding from a novel research project led by University of PEI Canada Research Chair Caroline Ritter and Lead Author Gemma Postill, an MD/PhD candidate at University of Toronto. Ritter and Postill originally set out to discover why healthy young adults living in a low risk environment were lining up in droves in early December 2020, when PEI’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Heather Morrison issued a request for that age group to be tested for the virus. What they found is that young people were so affected by the social circumstances and policy regulations surrounding COVID-19, that they experienced serious effects of illness without having the illness itself.
Ritter and Postill will be sharing this message as featured speakers at the upcoming Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences (Congress 2022), Canada’s largest academic gathering and one of the most comprehensive in the world, taking place virtually this year from May 12-20.
Billed as a leading conference on the critical conversations of our time, Congress 2022 will serve as a platform for the unveiling of thousands of research papers and presentations from social sciences and humanities experts worldwide. With more than 6,000 visitors expected to log in, the event will focus on reimagining the future following two years of the COVID-19 pandemic and other life-altering world events, with the goal of inspiring ideas, dialogue and action that create a more diverse, sustainable, democratic and just future.
The qualitative PEI study — launched by Ritter and Postill as a passion project, with contributions from researchers Michael Halpin at Dalhousie University and Claire Zanin at University of Guelph — draws on information collected from 30 in-depth interviews with Islanders between the ages of 20 and 29. What they found is that disruptions to young people’s lives were so impactful to their health and social life that it was as if they were dealing with a physical illness.
“The one comment that really stood out to me and was repeated across the board was: This is the mentally worst I’ve ever been,” said Postill, who conducted the interviews remotely by video during lockdown. “This is typically the time of life when young adults’ social networks are the widest and they’re expected to make the most changes, but instead, our data show that they are experiencing very negative consequences.”
What’s more, most respondents reported feeling stagnated when it came to advancing their careers, relationships and home-buying plans, that they were unable to achieve major life milestones and that they were somehow losing ground during the pandemic and actively falling behind. While they were fearful of testing positive for COVID-19, they were even more concerned about carrying it, and unwillingly bringing it to a friend, family member or neighbour.
“This demographic is very aware of their local community and the fact that they could be held responsible if they are the ones spreading it,” said Ritter, whose primary research interest lies in understanding why people do or don’t adhere to medical and public health advice.
Though the researchers started by questioning why young adults in PEI were so quick to follow health policy rules, the study ended up highlighting a very different understanding about their target population.
“The big finding for me was the depth and breadth of the impact of COVID-19 rules and regulations on young people,” said Postill, noting that some participants moved home to live with their parents and are now finding it difficult to move out again. “Pandemic rules are disrupting their life choices in a way that is causing a more permanent effect, so when implementing these necessary regulations, governments and policy makers need to be offering support to buffer those consequences,” she added.
“One of our key take-aways is that you have to find a balance between the consequences of restrictions and the consequences of illness,” added Ritter.
The research team is currently working to publish their findings as “lessons learned” for other countries and regions, and aims to share them with the provincial government as well.
Organized by the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences, Congress 2022 is sponsored by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, Mitacs, SAGE Publishing, Universities Canada, the Canada Foundation for Innovation, and University Affairs.
Registration – which includes 100+ keynote and open Congress 2022 sessions (with recordings available until June 3, 2022) – is $55. Visit www.congress2022.ca to register for a community pass and access the program of events open to the public.
For more information:
Tel: (877) 986-1340
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