Shaming young people as party animals ignores their actual COVID-19 risks

Not a week goes by without seeing media coverage and public health messages taking young Canadians to task for partying.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic amped up in March, footage of young adults skirting the guidelines for a good time has earned admonishments from everyone, including the World Health Organization, deputy public health officer Dr. Howard Njoo and actor Ryan Reynolds.

The latest target? Ontario’s Western University students, as recent coverage of group socializing earned widespread online mockery; a confirmed outbreak this week grounded campus activities to a halt last Thursday.

For Dr. Farah Mawani, a social and psychiatric epidemiologist with Unity Health Toronto, it’s also important that public health messaging looks at the social inequities affecting certain populations of young people.

“Some of the messaging is based on assumptions that may not be true,” she said. “I think we really need to improve our understanding of the context and mental health of youth, as well as recognize that they have a wide range of experiences … we need to put more energy into thinking about what the unique needs of youth are.”

Mawani listed four areas she sees social inequities increasing young people’s COVID-19 risks that should be researched and addressed.

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