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Trauma and Resilience During COVID-19

Trauma and Resilience During COVID-19

UCF mental health experts discuss the the impact the pandemic will have on us.

Summer 2020

Trauma Changes Everyone

For all the trauma that I have witnessed, I never expected a global pandemic resulting in a devastating loss of life, bringing our economy and perhaps our society to their knees.

The world has changed for everyone. The luckiest among us stay in our houses, working and learning from home. In public, we now stand six feet apart wearing masks — eliminating important human behaviors such as hugs, handshakes and smiles. These changes will exist for some time, but they are miniscule compared to this event’s overall, long-term impact.

Mental health professionals know that the people likely to suffer the most severe psychological effects of trauma are those who are at its central core. In this pandemic, the myriad of people who have lost jobs and livelihoods, either temporarily or permanently, will be severely affected. There are two other groups who are severely affected: families who have lost or will lose a loved one to COVID-19, and the hospital workers and first responders on the front line of this pandemic.

The death of a family member is always difficult — in this time of contagion, death is particularly cruel. We cannot hold the hand of the dying or have that last private goodbye. FaceTime cannot substitute for physical presence in life’s final moments.

Funerals are not for the deceased. They are for the people left behind. Funerals provide a chance to connect — to get or give emotional support and to grieve our loss with others. Funerals provide closure: A loved one is properly laid to rest. COVID-19 has robbed us of this very important ritual, leaving behind a grieving family without an important, timely steppingstone by which to move on.

First responders and healthcare workers have died in the line of duty after contracting COVID-19. For others who test positive, they must quarantine — alone perhaps in a hotel for weeks — to avoid transmission to their families.

Physical separation takes a psychological toll. Additionally, healthcare workers describe apocalyptic working conditions. The emotional cost of repeatedly witnessing death and the dying’s intimate last words with family has led some healthcare professionals to depression, despair and even suicide. There are some traumatic events that are just so horrific that no one should expect to walk away unscathed. For all these heroes, this is one of those events.

The most common response to trauma is short-term stress followed by natural recovery.

Typically, a traumatic event occurs and afterward, recovery begins. This pandemic is different. We do not know when it will end. The previous models of recovery may not apply.

Trauma changes you forever, but I believe that we will rise above, stronger and more in touch with what really matters. Stay safe and well, and please, take care of each other.

Resiliency Is in Our DNA

The COVID-19 pandemic is a crisis that has resulted in significant challenges and detrimental consequences in all aspects of life. Individuals and families across the nation are facing uncertainty, fear, anxiety, physical illness and the unexpected death of loved ones.

Everyone reacts to situations differently, and individual experiences of COVID-19 can range from challenging to traumatic.

Although the timeline for COVID-19 is uncertain, this pandemic will subside and life will continue. We should avoid trying to bounce back to normal, as if these past months never occurred. We may not be the same people, community or nation we were prior to COVID-19. But our experiences have the potential to foster change and increase our resolve.

As a result, COVID-19 may present an opportunity to highlight the resiliency of humankind.

Resilience is a dynamic process that relates to our capacity to recover, adapt and thrive following adverse experiences. While it is natural to dwell on the negative impact and real consequences of COVID-19, there may be a silver lining.

Crisis situations can highlight and strengthen altruism, cohesiveness and growth among individuals, families, communities and our collective society.

There are many factors that can promote and support individuals’ resilience in the wake of crises, including having empathy toward others, promoting emotional well-being and stability, fostering a sense of optimism about the future, cultivating creativity, being physically active, encouraging openness to experiences, inspiring humor, nurturing problem-solving abilities and promoting social competence.

“Crisis situations can highlight and strengthen altruism, cohesiveness and growth among individuals, families, communities and our collective society.”

Signs of positive growth following significant adversity may be seen when we view ourselves as survivors as opposed to victims, are aware of our vulnerabilities, maintain positive interpersonal relationships, demonstrate compassion and altruism, change our priorities and develop a gratitude for life. We have the opportunity to emerge on the other side of the COVID-19 pandemic stronger, but it’s up to us.

We need to collectively support one another by building on each other’s strengths and identifying coping strategies that foster growth and positive outcomes during these challenging times. Some people have access to support and resources that can buffer the negative outcomes of the pandemic more than others. Underserved and vulnerable populations have been hit hardest with the consequences of COVID-19.

The disruption of normal life and lack of access to basic physiological and psychological resources may cause detrimental results. To promote resilience, we need to identify strengths and support interventions that make resources readily available for all.

There is no denying that the COVID-19 pandemic is a crisis that has resulted in many difficult challenges and adverse traumatic experiences. It would be naive to minimize the many negative consequences that have occurred as a result of this devastating pandemic.

Yet when the effects of the pandemic start to subside, we will see that humankind is resilient. We have the ability to not only recover but also to grow stronger and thrive in the wake of this crisis.