2020 was the rollercoaster we never asked to get on.
The year became an abrupt call to stop and reflect on our individual and collective realities. Its unprecedented force to shut the world down gave us no choice but to reevaluate what we consider essential and what previous decisions throughout history have led us to.
Many look towards the new year hoping that it will be an opportunity to start anew. With a global pandemic, civil uprisings, natural disasters, and so many impactful events to add to that list, it’s only natural we’re antsy for a fresh start. Due to the rippling effects of these circumstances, researchers predict that there will likely be long-lasting emotional trauma on a massive scale.
The pandemic has been unlike any other in the last century. With more than 2 million deaths reported in less than a year, researchers have found many to meet the qualifying criteria for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), especially in those that have experienced the consequences of this unprecedented virus more closely.
Groups such as those who have suffered from COVID-19 severely, those who’ve lost loved ones to the illness, or those who have worked on the front lines have shown signs of mental health issues, according to the American Psychiatric Association.
Other groups have also been identified to suffer from some level of PTSD due to various stressors that can trigger the symptoms. Social isolation is one that has uniquely affected groups across society. From teens needing to adapt to online learning at a crucial time in their development to older adults in nursing homes unable to see their families, many are suffering the seclusion in different ways.
Another factor that has threatened the mental stability of many is unemployment and financial turmoil.
As businesses shut down, furlough, or fire their employees and struggle to stay afloat, many face economic instability. They are left wondering how they’ll continue to put food on the table and pay rent on time. Not only does the instability affect the individual but those around them as well. As psychologist Katie Lear stated, “Even if an adult has not been personally affected by the pandemic, it’s possible to develop vicarious trauma simply from repeatedly watching others suffer.”
In a time where social isolation was starting to become the new norm, many sectors of society felt a moral responsibility to address the recent racial injustices that have taken the lives of Black communities in the United States over the summer. Taking to the streets to protest the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and all the other people killed while unarmed at the hands of police, the movement became a poignant reflection of the civil rights movement.
The psychological toll of this adds on to the stressors caused by the pandemic. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, data shows a sharp increase in reported anxiety and depression among Black Americans in the week following the killing of George Floyd.
Even though the Black Lives Matter movement originated in 2013, it’s withstood its social and political relevance throughout the years. Sadly, this means that the Black community has had to relive the injustices that have historically threatened their livelihood in an effort to obtain the equality they’ve been fighting for centuries.
To understand how the pervasive effects of trauma manifest, The National Center for Biotechnology Information explains that while many undoubtedly display clear symptoms that point towards PTSD, many others show more resilient responses or subclinical symptoms that aren’t so easy to spot.
The immediate reactions to the aftermath of trauma vary greatly. They are affected by people’s individual experiences, the accessibility to support systems and natural healing methods, closeness to family, range of life skills, among others.
It’s worrying that quarantine measures continue to limit the access people have to resources that can help them cope and heal, resulting in an inadequate ability to regulate emotions and sustain self-esteem.
Where do we go from here?
COVID-19 still lives among us, and Black Lives Matter continues to gain momentum in today’s society, but we move forward with the hope that 2021 will bring healing and stability. Even though we’re still living the effects of the pandemic and social injustices, we’re starting to see potential solutions such as developing multiple vaccines and the start of a new administration