Essential but forgotten? Youth who toil in grocery stores, cafés and restaurants feel the strain

They’re baristas, grocery store clerks, restaurant workers. As the stress of the pandemic wears on, Quebec’s young adults do the essential work that is often overlooked.

Out of the Dark digital series looks at impact of COVID-19 on young adults

Out of the Dark: Being… Essential

3 years ago
Duration 3:54
As the stress of the pandemic wears on, Quebec’s young adults do the essential work that is often overlooked.

They're not in the emergency room red zone or in the intensive care unit. They're tending the coffee bar, stocking grocery store shelves, and handling meals in restaurants.

Thousands of young workers in Quebec are on those front lines, facing the public every day. Their work is stressful. It's also considered essential.

For Laure Marianne Olivier-Fuglie, 18, a CEGEP student who works in a grocery store in the Quebec City area, every shift has its share of apprehension. 

"Even subconsciously, I think we all feel it, even if we don't think about it, that COVID is still there," she said. 

"What if it's me? What if it's my friend? What if it's my boss? What if it's me that gives it to my mom and dad?" 

For Chloe Peel, 20, a university student and barista, being the person who has to tell people to wear a mask can be a burden.

"It's also very stressful knowing that you're supposed to be some form of law enforcement," she said.

"These are things that we're not trained for, we're not paid for. And we also don't have any real resources for dealing with the emotional impact of clientele who aren't happy to wear a mask or who don't want to wait outside."

Psychotherapist and social worker Shirlette Wint says it's important to recognize the contribution made by the youths of society. 

"Historically, young people have always been a pivotal part of the workforce," she said.

"Their contribution is perhaps even more important because of what they're doing. It makes us continue to function as if our society is functioning normally … If they're not there, what would happen?"

While young Quebecers may not be suffering the brunt of the physical effects of COVID-19, they are reporting the highest increase in psychological distress, according to a recent study by the Institut national de santé publique du Québec.

This story is part of a special CBC Quebec project Out of the Dark: Real Talk on Mental Health. More in this series: 

If you are having a hard time coping, here are some resources. If you are in crisis or know someone who is, here is where to get help:

  • Canada Suicide Prevention Service: 1-833-456-4566 (Phone) | 45645 (Text, 4 p.m. to midnight ET only)

  • In Quebec (French): Association québécoise de prévention du suicide: 1-866-APPELLE (1-866-277-3553)

  • Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868 (Phone), Live Chat counselling at

  • Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention: Find a 24-hour crisis centre