Collective Trauma and the COVID-19 Pandemic

Original Publishing Date:
March 11, 2024
Last Update:
May 17, 2024

Following the unparalleled global disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, our world has been shaped by shared experiences of sorrow, resilience, and collective transformation. As we navigate the complexities of these trying times, the repercussions of the pandemic stretch well beyond the tangible health effects, delving into the depths of our shared consciousness. The psychological and emotional toll of this crisis has given rise to a phenomenon known as collective trauma, emphasizing the imperative need for empathy, understanding, and collective healing in the path forward. This article will explore the concept of collective trauma, examine the traumatic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, and discuss the process of recovery from these experiences.

Did you know we specialize in trauma recovery? Our providers are trained in providing Online EMDR and are experts in trauma recovery. Sign up is easy!

Learn More

What is Collective Trauma?

According to The American Medical Association, collective trauma is defined as traumatic events that affect an entire group or society and/or sever ties that bind community members to one another (e.g., trust, connection, safety, and meaning). Instances of collective trauma encompass natural disasters, terrorist attacks, and shootings. The COVID-19 pandemic, which will be the focal point of our article later on, is another illustrative example. Collective trauma is frequently characterized by having a distinct beginning, middle, and end to the event, and typically takes several years to recover from as a collective (1). Potential consequences of collective trauma encompass mental distress, transgenerational distress, and shifts in attitudes and beliefs. The impacts can be unevenly felt, particularly among specific populations facing pre-existing mental or physical health issues and economic and social inequities. Individuals who work in helping professions such as first responders, health care workers, and teachers also face an elevated likelihood of encountering collective trauma (2).

The Collective Trauma of the COVID-19 Pandemic

The global impact of the COVID-19 pandemic went beyond just physical health, leaving a lasting impact on the mental well-being of communities worldwide. As countries tried to deal with the fast spread of the virus, the impact on mental health became a pandemic of its own. Communities faced not only the direct threat of the virus but also the stress of constant change, uncertainty, and social isolation. This collective experience created a sense of shared trauma, as people grappled with loss, fear, and the disruption of their daily lives.

Infographic from APA’s October 2023 Stress in America survey (3)

The Pandemic’s Effect on Mental Health

Three  years following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, ongoing concerns persist regarding mental health and substance use. The data indicates that mental health diagnoses and stress levels have surged, with adults in the 35 to 44 age group experiencing the highest increase. People within this age bracket identified finances as their primary stressor, followed by personal safety and family responsibilities. Additionally, there was a substantial rise in stress among young adults, marking the second-highest increase. Much like older adults, financial worries were a significant source of stress for young adults. However, they also shared an equal level of stress due to health-related concerns. Breaking down health-related stressors, mental health stress emerged as the most prominent, accounting for 72% of the overall increase in stress (3). It is widely acknowledged that the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic were particularly unique for children and teenagers. The sudden shift to remote learning, accompanied by the absence of regular social interactions, presented a considerable and challenging transformation for young individuals to grasp. The stress induced by these changes not only affects their ability to learn but also compounds the challenges of adapting to an entirely new online educational system, a situation unprecedented for many. Given the substantial disruption experienced during their formative years, the lasting impact of these experiences may well extend throughout the remainder of their lives. These issues touched everyone, highlighting the need for better ways to support mental health during and after this challenging time. The widespread impact of the challenges brought on by the pandemic underscores the ongoing necessity for improved strategies to bolster mental well-being as we navigate both the immediate and future aftermath of this unprecedented period (4).

Managing the Effects of Collective Trauma

1. Foster Resilience

Fostering resilience has become paramount in navigating the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. Resilience is the capacity to bounce back from adversity, learn from setbacks, and adapt to change. Developing resilience involves cultivating coping mechanisms, maintaining a positive outlook, and building a support network. In the face of uncertainty and stress, individuals and communities can enhance their resilience by fostering a mindset of adaptability and embracing the strength derived from overcoming difficulties. Read this article for more insights the role resilience plays in trauma recovery and post-traumatic growth

2. Care for Your Physical Health

Embracing a holistic approach to mental health underscores the intricate link between the mind and body. Prioritizing physical well-being significantly influences mental health. Essential aspects include ensuring adequate sleep for brain rejuvenation, maintaining a balanced diet for optimal neurotransmitter production, and engaging in regular exercise to release stress-relieving endorphins. Managing physiological symptoms of stress, such as deep breathing or mindfulness practices, further reinforces the mind-body connection. By incorporating these practices into daily life, a holistic approach fosters a synergistic relationship between physical and mental well-being, contributing to a more balanced and resilient mindset.

3. Connect with Community

Forging connections within the community proves to be a powerful salve for mental health. Establishing a sense of belonging and shared understanding fosters a supportive environment where individuals can openly discuss their experiences and feelings. Collective healing often thrives in community bonds, as the shared burden of trauma becomes a collective responsibility. Engaging with others who have navigated similar challenges provides a valuable network of empathy and shared coping strategies. Consider joining clubs or groups that align with your interests, providing a space to share experiences and forge new bonds, or volunteering to aid in the community's recovery. These connections not only alleviate the sense of isolation that often accompanies trauma but also contribute to a broader narrative of resilience and communal strength.

4. Connect with a Trauma-Informed and find an EMDR Therapist

Working with a trauma-informed therapist can create a supportive space for you to navigate the personal impact of collective trauma. In the aftermath of collective societal challenges or crises, this form of therapy offers individuals a secure and private environment to navigate their emotions, address fundamental issues, and build coping strategies. Exploring these emotions and concerns within therapy transforms it into a positive platform for individuals to cultivate resilience, promote personal growth, and strive to regain a sense of well-being. At Virtual Therapy Clinic, all our therapists specialize in trauma-informed care and employ impactful techniques like Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR) to achieve rapid and efficient outcomes.

Feeling the weight of collective trauma or pandemic aftermath? Virtual Therapy Clinic offers support tailored to your needs. Our trauma-informed therapists specialize in effective techniques like EMDR. Take the first step towards healing by reaching out to us today.

More articles in this series

No items found.
  1. Boyer, S. M., Godfrey, K. M., & Downing, V. L. (2022). Collective trauma toolkit | Ama - American Medical Association.
  2. In this together: Understanding the efects of collective trauma. (2020, September).
  3. American Psychological Association. (2023, November). Stress in America 2023: A nation recovering from collective trauma. American Psychological Association.
  4. Lloyd, K., Schubotz, D., Roche, R., Manzi, J., & McKnight, M. (2023). A Mental Health Pandemic? Assessing the Impact of COVID-19 on Young People's Mental Health. International journal of environmental research and public health, 20(16), 6550.
Katherine Wheeler, MA, LCPC, EMDR

Meet Katherine Wheeler, MA, LPC, EMDR, your guide to healing and growth. Break free from the past, conquer stress, and discover authentic success with Katherine's expertise in trauma recovery, performance stress, and healing. Schedule your free consultation to start your transformative journey today

See Full Profile
Chat with us
No matter where you are at in life, our therapists are here to help you. Get started with Virtual Therapy Clinic.
Get Started