Professor David Pettinicchio writes about disability, mental health, and the COVID-19 holiday season – article in The Conversation

Professor David Pettinicchio recently co-authored the article “What a distanced holiday season means for people with disabilities and chronic health conditions” with Professor of Sociology Michelle Maroto (University of Alberta) in The Conversation. The article outlines how many Canadians and Americans opted to spend time with friends and family over the Thanksgiving holidays against public health recommendations for the boost to mental health.

While it is true that the pandemic has resulted in a mass decline in mental health across the country, the authors drew attention to how those whose face the highest risk from COVID-19 complications face heightened strain on their mental health. For many with disabilities and chronic health conditions, the risks of COVID-19 complications outweighs any benefits of social gathering. Professor Pettinicchio and his co-author found in their research that those in high risk groups who must limit their social interaction entirely experience a dramatic decrease in mental health because of their isolation, in addition to the mental health strain already common to people with such health conditions. They note that while we all are weathering the pandemic together, not everyone has experienced the effects – positive and negative – equally, and that for as hard as socially distancing this holiday season was for all, it has been especially harder for some.

David Pettinicchio is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto with teaching responsibilities at UTM. His research focuses on social policy, social movements, and political sociology. He has recently begun research on how policy responses to COVID-19 have shaped public perceptions of government and policy, and how people with disabilities and chronic health conditions are economically impacted by the pandemic.

We’ve included an excerpt of the article below. Read the full article on The Conversation here.

What a distanced holiday season means for people with disabilities and chronic health conditions

For many, the holiday season is synonymous with family gatherings, often requiring arduous and stressful travel. This is so much a part of our culture that getting to a place to be with loved ones has been the plot of many holiday movies — from Planes, Trains and Automobiles to the countless Hallmark Channel Christmas movies now available all year long.

In a time when many people are feeling lonely and isolated, celebrations with family and friends can feel like a lifeline. This is perhaps why many Canadians and Americans ignored recommended social distancing measures over their recent Thanksgiving holidays. In Canada, gatherings related to the October holiday resulted in a spike of COVID-19 cases. The post-Thanksgiving COVID-19 spike in the United States is now being felt in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

Many of those who travelled and held family gatherings for these holidays may have done so because they saw themselves as being at low risk for COVID-19 complications. They put their need for contact above contracting and spreading the virus. Such gatherings were potentially important for limiting some of the negative mental health effects related to weathering this pandemic. Indeed, half of all Canadians have reported worsening mental health since the onset of social distancing measures.

Individuals in high-risk groups are already more likely to be experiencing negative mental health effects brought on by protective measures. What might this mean as the holiday season continues to unfold?

Read the full article here