Resilient Youth in Stressed Environments (RYSE)

Oil and gas production and climate change have large impacts on social, economic and environmental systems that affect young people’s mental health and overall wellbeing. To better understand these complex relationships at both ends of the carbon cycle (production and consumption), the five-year multinational CIHR funded Resilient Youth in Stressed Environments (RYSE) research project will study the resilience of young people in Canada and South Africa.

Project Overview

Resilient Youth in Stressed Environments (RYSE) is a 5-year multinational research project that will explore patterns of resilience among young people in changing environments. Research sites include communities involved in oil and gas production and communities impacted by climate change. This project is focused on Drayton Valley, Alberta, Canada;  Secunda, Mpumalanga Province, South Africa and Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, Canada.

Together in Canada and South Africa, RYSE will examine the biopsychosocial resilience of young people over time and the relationships between the resilience of ecological systems where there are disruptions—some positive, some negative—related to oil and gas production and the effects of climate change. The goal is to understand how young people adapt and thrive in stressed environments, with a special focus on youth and their families living in communities experiencing change resulting from boom-bust cycles in the oil and gas industry and youth in communities navigating rapidly changing environments as a result of climate change.

Led by Dr. Michael Ungar at the Resilience Research Centre, Dalhousie University in Canada and Dr. Linda Theron, University of Pretoria in South Africa, the team of researchers will be working with partners from the oil and gas industry, government, school boards and key organizations within each of the communities to better understand how to support the health and well-being of young people in changing environments. We expect findings to be particularly useful for informing Human Resource policies in the oil and gas industry to ensure employees and their families receive the best supports in changing economic contexts. Furthermore, in Drayton Valley and Secunda, we expect that an understanding of how oil and gas industries affect the multiple social and physical determinants of young people’s health can increase the potentially positive impact of extraction industries (e.g., employment, community cohesion, innovation) while decreasing the negative consequences of oil and gas production (e.g., finding better ways to help youth deal with family stressors and social disruptions related to changing economic conditions). In Cambridge Bay, our findings will contribute to understanding how to better draw on strengths and assets in communities to support youth in changing environments.

Unlike other research focused on identifying problems, our team of human biologists, mental health professionals, community development specialists and environmental scientists are searching for the protective factors that enhance the capacity of young people to adapt when their communities are going through social, economic and environmental change. The research is unique for its focus on resilience at different levels (individual, family, community) in the same study. Over five years, the research will cycle through six phases of data collection, from documenting young people’s lives to collecting information on biological stress markers, measuring family resilience, assessing community capacity, and even the quality of the natural environment that surrounds young people (e.g., the amount of green space in their community, recreational spaces, air and water quality, etc.).

The RYSE project will work in collaboration with youth from each site to build their capacity as co-researchers, putting them at the forefront of the project, and providing the platform for the young people to influence policies within their communities.

“In the context of exposure to significant adversity, resilience is both the capacity of individuals to navigate their way to the psychological, social, cultural, and physical resources that sustain their well-being, and their capacity individually and collectively to negotiate for these resources to be provided in culturally meaningful ways.” – Dr. Michael Ungar

“Many South African young people function well regardless of constant and/or cruel structural challenges. Whilst these young people acknowledge their own strengths in explanations of positive adjustment, they are more likely to accentuate family-and community-based supports that reflect local sociocultural values. The RYSE project promises an opportunity to better understand which supports matter more for specific groups of youth and to leverage this insight to better champion the resilience of South African young people.” – Dr. Linda Theron

“Defeating the challenges associated with long-term mental health issues is key to overcoming adversity. Much-needed suicide prevention and mental health strategies are empowering youth, enhancing their resiliency to cope with their challenging environments. Dr. Michael Ungar and his team’s resilience research extends a lifeline to members of our most vulnerable communities. Their team is creating a future in which young people can not only survive, but thrive; going on to live healthy and productive lives, and taking their rightful place in society.” – Dr. Steven Hoffman Scientific Director, CIHR Institute of Population and Public Health