We’ve all lived through unprecedented times, a worldwide pandemic that none of us have experienced. More than two million lives have been lost and arguably, our lives will never be the same again. It may feel like the pandemic is coming to an end and in some ways it is. However, there is a residual effect of the pandemic, that is only just starting to be felt. Trauma
What is Trauma?
Trauma can come in all shapes and sizes, and it means different things to different people. Trauma is about events and their effect on our mind and how we relate to these events on a deep level of belief. We all deal with stress in our lives but when a worldwide pandemic occurs, simple stress can morph into Trauma, and we can begin to feel helpless. Even everyday events can cause trauma, for example, losing our jobs. Our identity and self-esteem can be tied to our work and when we lose our job, we lose some of these feelings about ourselves. Losing our job unexpectedly can be even more stressful and this causes our nervous system to be forced on high alert. And the less resilient we become from events in life knocking us, then we become more likely to suffer trauma more easily. We all need resilience to work through the trauma's impact.
Trauma is not necessarily proportional to an event's intensity and some people will process what has happened better than others and possibly avoid trauma.
When trauma goes viral
We can all agree that Covid 19 was a world event and very few people were left untouched by Covid, in some way. The scale of Covid could mean that it could be defined as mass trauma, purely due to the numbers of people affected.
Most obviously, the pandemic is creating bereavement on a huge scale. Two million people, who quite possibly, had a number of relatives, all bereaved, all hurting and potentially struggling. Restricted hospital and care home visits, no bedside goodbyes, funerals socially distanced and a severe disruption of any ‘normal’ bereavement process are all in place for mass trauma.
In hospital wards, nurses and doctors face considerable traumatic potential after working in isolation with critically ill patients. Around 20% of healthcare workers face post-traumatic effects. Health care workers were also faced with the constant fear of contracting Covid on a daily basis.
What makes Covid-19's trauma truly huge, is its impact on the entire population – including those who will never catch the virus or even know people who have. Just the prospect of catching a deadly invisible disease, however unlikely, is intrinsically frightening and creates stress amongst us all, which can lead to trauma.
Our once safe and comfortable environment with our friends became a place of potential danger if there was a risk of contracting Covid when we all saw people.
Finally, Covid took away one of the key parts of being human, being sociable and mixing with other humans. Our whole socialisation system was disrupted, and this alone was enough to cause trauma in some of us.
Economic effects also played their part. Loss of businesses and jobs was huge, particularly as lower income families were disproportionally affected by Covid.
The mental health effects are just beginning to be felt throughout the world. Most counsellors have full caseloads and trying to access Mental healthcare via the NHS, is virtually impossible right now.
So, what can we all do?
It would be good if we can all acknowledge that we’ve all processed the trauma of Covid differently and therefore our trauma will be different. Some people haven’t been touched by Covid at all. In fact, some professionals have received pay rises and been enabled to work from home when they choose. Others have not fared so well and are still suffering the effects of Covid.
The problem of forgetting a pandemic
Perhaps more than anything else, though, the lasting social dangers of mass trauma consist in forgetting. When it goes unprocessed or undiscussed, the group's social tissues remain disturbed and unhealed. Individual traumas build up and are left to fester. Trauma needs to be processed to enable us to understand what’s happened to us. When exposed to reminders of an unprocessed trauma, individuals may act in fits of aggression and anxiety. Or by trying to avoid re-exposure to triggers, people may act with "avoidance, apathy or passivity" and in some extreme cases, people may dissociate themselves from the traumatic event.
As a society it’s important to remember loved ones and relatives that were lost in the pandemic and not to forget them. Continuing a bond with loved ones, even when we’ve lost them, can help to process our loss and reincorporate that person into our lives in a different way. They are still with us, just not physically.
A turning point for us all?
Covid-19 is a mass trauma the likes of which we've never seen before. Our most complex social extensions, and the building-blocks of our personal realities, have been irrevocably changed. The ways we live and work together and view each other as common citizens has altered. All pandemics end, however. And this one will. But to forget the trauma and move won't help us all to heal. Acknowledging the trauma and learning to reconnect empathically is what we all need right now. Take care everyone x