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The psychological fallout of COVID-19

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A few weeks ago, it may have felt as though the worst of the pandemic was finally behind us. Workplaces and public spaces began to set plans for re-opening after having been shuttered for the better part of the previous two years. But, with the Omicron variant now circulating, more uncertainty remains as we look ahead to 2022. When it comes to mental health and what this uncertainty has meant for some, we are only just beginning to understand what the long-term impacts of the pandemic might be. Let's look at what we know so far, what could emerge in the future, and how we can lessen the impact of the circumstances we’re currently facing.

The pandemic’s impact on our emotional state
In addition to the fear and uncertainty that has increased anxiety for many, job insecurity, financial stress, and social isolation have brought on lowered mood and even a sense of grief for some. The effects of all these changes may run much deeper than what we can see right now. This grief may be related to the loss of a loved one, of hope, or just mourning of “the way things were”. And even as we begin to return to a new version of “normal,” many of us may still be feeling uneasy and uncertain, rather than excited or relieved, and it can be difficult to make sense of these feelings.

Collective trauma
The pandemic has been a collective trauma – a traumatic event that has affected huge numbers of us and forced us to question how we make sense of ourselves, our lives, and the world around us (Hirschberger, 2018). It has shaken much of what we know and count on – physical spaces, relationships, jobs, or simply just routines – leaving us without a solid foundation on which to build our identity and self-worth. Trauma uproots the sense of safety and predictability the latter normally provides us and can make it especially difficult to re-establish that sense of safety once it’s lost.

The psychological fallout of the pandemic and healing from it all
Many of us may be asking ourselves, what will the psychological fallout of the pandemic be and how can we go about healing from it? These questions don’t have clear answers just yet and more research is needed to truly know (Veldhuis et al., 2021), but we can start by thinking about what the pandemic has meant for mental health so far. Some individuals have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic and healing will depend on each person’s unique experience. It will need to take place at the government, community, and personal levels as well.

On a personal level, it can be helpful to start with patience and kindness: pandemic life has thrown us all for a loop, and it may take us some time to make sense of what’s happened and rebuild. It can also help to explore your thoughts and beliefs about the pandemic – sometimes, the way we think can keep us stuck and prevent us from moving forward. Healing can also be found through a sense of community; establishing meaningful connections with others who share similar experiences can allow us to make new meaning of what’s happened, and social supports can help in rebuilding resilience.

This is not to say that each one of us has been traumatized by the happenings of the past couple of years. We each process and make sense of things in our own unique way, but it’s safe to say that collectively, we have been faced with some significant challenges and our resilience has been tested. Acknowledging where we are right now - how we feel and where we might need help - is the first step towards beginning to rebuild a version of what we once knew.

If you're struggling, MindBeacon is here to help with a variety of supports available in our Virtual Mental Health Therapy Clinic. If you are part of our Workplace Mental Health Program, please visit your company page for access to services covered by your workplace.


References

Hirschberger, G. (2018). Collective trauma and the social construction of meaning. Frontiers in psychology9, 1441.

Veldhuis, C. B., Nesoff, E. D., McKowen, A. L. W., Rice, D. R., Ghoneima, H., Wootton, A. R., ... & Anderson, J. C. (2021). Addressing the critical need for long-term mental health data during the COVID-19 pandemic: Changes in mental health from April to September 2020. Preventive Medicine146, 106465.

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Stronger Minds content is for informational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice, and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to establish a standard of care with a reader, you should always seek the advice of your mental health professional, physician or other qualified health provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding a medical or mental health condition. If you think you may have a medical or mental health emergency, call your doctor, go to the nearest hospital emergency department, or call emergency services immediately. You should never disregard or delay seeking medical advice relating to treatment or standard of care because of information contained herein. Medical information changes constantly. Therefore the information herein should not be considered current, complete or exhaustive, nor should you rely on such information to recommend a course of treatment for you or any other individual. Reliance on any information provided herein is solely at your own risk.