April 25th, 2023
By: Anna Abramyan, LICSW
Does COVID feel like a never-ending dystopian nightmare? Does it feel like life will never go back to “normal”? Do you feel like you’ll never get out of this depressive state?
You’re not alone.
What you and others have been experiencing is what’s called collective trauma or stress. Repeated and long-term exposure to situations such as social isolation, illness, economic stress, political strife, human rights issues, financial instability, and the grief of our past lives prior to COVID. For some, it feels like we are still stuck in 2020 and we haven’t even begun to process those last couple of years. For those who are high-risk, this is intensified, and complacency is not an option.
The kids are not alright…
We have a generation of school age kids who missed social milestones. When families transitioned into homeschooling and virtual classrooms, there became an increase in intrafamily violence, anxiety, and depression. Teachers and school played a bigger role in kids’ lives than previously thought because it was within schools where kids learned how to socialize. Socializing allows kids to build the skills for future social interactions and communication skills, develop their self-esteem, develop empathy, encourages sharing, and of course to make friends. Educators also have a role to play in supporting troubled youngsters, “but they need to be supported themselves,” Baptista says. “Very often, teachers are undertrained in how to identify early signs of stress and anxiety and in how to begin a conversation to elicit concerns and offer support. Schools in general are underserved when it comes to mental health resources (columbia.edu).”
Isolation in those crucial years of development has led to kids who lack confidence, have increased anxiety and depression, poor ability to emotionally regulate, act out, and become more withdrawn and isolated. “There’s a national crisis in adolescent mental health,” says Baptista. “Hospitals are full of adolescents with suicidal ideation. It’s fair to say that the problem was growing before the pandemic, but no doubt it has been exacerbated.” (columbia.edu). Schools opening back up has helped in some areas, but childhood trauma can have life-long effects if they are not addressed. The mental health care system already suffers a severe shortage, this is exacerbated in low socioeconomic neighborhoods and rural areas.
…and neither are the parents.
The rates of suicide and domestic violence increased for adults during COVID. The mental health impact of social distancing, COVID-19 quarantine, and financial crises due to loss of employment were associated risk factors with suicide and/or suicidal attempts during the COVID-19 pandemic (bmcpsychiatry.biomedcentral.com).
Stories of parents checking themselves in the emergency room because they were afraid of hurting a family member, increases in Child Protective Service calls, parents who worked in the medical fields not being able to come home in fear of getting others sick, and those who died alone from COVID because family couldn’t come into the hospital became a norm in the health care industry.
For some who became ill and developed long COVID, there is still no proven treatment for those with debilitating symptoms. The potential long-term effects of COVID-19 are poorly understood, with governments and scientists only now starting to systematically study the area as they emerge from a pandemic that itself blindsided much of the world (reuters.com).
An increase in social justice awareness
Additional free time to spend on social media, YouTube, watching the news, and reading, made it more apparent that the spotlight on social justice was getting brighter. It became obvious that those stimulus checks, the protections against evictions, and subsidized internet/phone should be basic human rights. Workers quit low paying jobs because they began to believe they deserved better–why work for $7.25 minimum wage when you can get more needs met through social services? Nurses and teachers quit their careers because of the abuse they received from families. Why commute hours to go to a job you can obviously do remotely? Capitalism continued to exploit us even through a global pandemic, and we have started to stand up for ourselves.
The Black Lives Matter movement influenced protests, uplifted communities, brought a broader understanding that cops don’t protect us. Those of Asian descent experienced racially based attacks due to a president calling it “the China virus” and resulted in individuals volunteering to escort those were fearful of being assaulted. Fortunately, mutual aid and community outreach became more widespread. Many of us learned that when we invest in communities, we invest in health and safety. Community meant wearing your masks as much as possible in public and making sure your neighbors were taken care of.
Ignorance is bliss.
Knowledge is power and the unfortunate downside of becoming more educated in oppressive systems and social justice is that you can’t unlearn it. You cannot unsee the damage it has caused and continues to cause. You begin to feel helpless and hopeless for society. Life is easier when you don’t have to think about the murders, overdoses, and financial exploitation outside of your cul-de-sac. How many relationships with family and friends ended because of varying political views. It’s difficult to maintain a relationship with someone who doesn’t view the value of human life the same way as you.
Those of us who gained awareness of how our society functions and became exhausted by the daily struggles of living under a pandemic, know that we can’t go back. We know that complacency causes harm. We know that those in low socioeconomic neighborhoods experience police violence more than financially prominent neighborhoods. We know that our jobs don’t care about us, and the government won’t save us. We know that we will have a generation of children with mental health issues.
The collective trauma of living under COVID is felt by many and it feels never ending. Together we continue forward until the “end” of the pandemic so that we can finally process and grieve everything that has been happening. We will continue to remember all the work that can be done when we work collectively. It’s important to keep in mind that even though many of us are feeling the constant dread of living in a pandemic, we can still make the world a better place through small changes together. Volunteering your time, money, resources, abilities to issues that you are passionate about can help from feeling less isolated and hopeless.