Trauma and COVID-19

Mental Health Social and Racial Justice

Q: I’ve heard people using language about trauma and COVID-19. Can you explain? I know COVID-19 is bad… but what makes it traumatizing?

A: COVID-19 has caused tragic loss for people around the world.

What we consider to be a *loss* is very personal, and can be so emotionally intense that it creates traumatic responses. These losses include the loss of control, stability, safety, and certainly the loss of other people. These losses may happen to us, to someone we know, or to people we identify so closely with that we have strong thinking and emotion-driven responses. Trauma responses can include overwhelm, dismissal, frustration, anxiety, or depression. They can make us fight, freeze, or run away from the issues we have to address. 😟🤕😥🤐

But what do these losses look like? Examples of loss that can contribute to traumatic responses include:

1. Loss of control of our physical being: The virus wreaks havoc on our physical bodies, including the initial respiratory system attacks. The major impact to other vital organ systems–even after seemingly mild COVID symptoms–can be defeating! When our physical health is attacked, we become dependent on everyone and everything else around us to survive, but how hard is that?

2. Loss of safety and control of our health care: Medical mistrust has been on highlight with the development of the COVID vaccine. For racial/ethnic minorities particularly in the US, the history of unethical and intentionally malicious practices of the US health care system and governments is not ignorable. Memories of maltreatment have warranted fear and worry about the safety of the vaccine. Media reports are simultaneously showing notable numbers of people refusing the vaccine, long waiting lines of high-risk populations unable to get the vaccine, inadequate vaccine availability, and slower-than-hoped state-led vaccine distribution rollouts.

3. Loss of safety in community spaces: In the US, all of this is happening against the major societal conflict about the equitable treatment of people from diverse backgrounds and lifestyles, and respectability within marginalized communities. In other words, when people are scared of the disease, scared of the treatment, scared of mistreatment at the hands of the healthcare system, and not treated well because of their gender, race, or other social identity, it is hard feel safe and supported–even when our societal institutions are supposed to foster safety and security.

4. Loss in on our family and social networks: What happens when we have a large network of close family and friends? We have higher chances of:

❣️Knowing someone suffering with COVID,
❣️Knowing someone who died from COVID, and
❣️Being around an asymptomatic COVID carrier.

We depend on those relationships to provide comfort and support, but with more people, we have a greater chance of experiencing more pain and death. Further, as we deal with our own issues, we may feel less able to support others–and that can threaten the social relationships we rely on.

We stitch together solutions based on the resources we have at hand. Though COVID-19 shines through the seams in our solutions, our resilient minds are constantly on the mend.

We hope this post provides perspective on at least a few of the feelings and experiences that have been painful for so many. We strive to maintain empathy for ourselves and others as we figure out how to cope in these hard times.

For more on social disparities in how COVID is affecting communities, check out our previous posts

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