On the Sidelines

On the Sidelines is a research project exploring depression-related sick leaves and work disability among young adults. The project is being carried out by postdoctoral researcher Sanna Rikala, who works at the University of Tampere’s School of Social Sciences and Humanities (YKY). The project is funded by the Academy of Finland (for 2016–2018).

In Finland, rates of depression-related inability to work have soared among adults under 30 years of age. Moreover, there is often a link between depression and dropping out of the education system or workforce. Yet it remains unclear whether depression is a cause or instead a consequence when young adults are left on the margins, outside work and education.

Some of the young adults who end up on sick leave or disability pension due to depression have a history of unemployment, while others have experienced burnout in the course of their studies or in working life. Indeed, some have suggested that the rise in depression-related disability for work is partly due to young adults’ precarious position in the labour market and the increasing pressures faced at work.

On the Sidelines looks at the young adults behind the statistics. Through in-depth interviews, the study examines, first of all, what kinds of paths have led to sick leave or outside work and education. The second key element of the project is an emphasis on the present: How do the young adults themselves perceive their current life situation? What kinds of problems do they face in day-to-day life? What kinds of things support the young adult’s agency, and what hinders it? What gives meaning to their life?

The researcher behind the project, Sanna Rikala, analyses the features of the contemporary labour market, work life, and social services from the perspective of interviewees’ experiences. In doing so, she undertakes to reveal why so many young adults are currently ‘sidelined’. Rikala also considers what kind of social policy could improve young adults’ opportunities to act as a part of society – in a way regarded as meaningful.

The aim for the project is to bring new insights and solutions into today’s discussion of mental health, work disability, and social exclusion and inclusion.