The COVID-19 inoculation program rolled out by federal and state governments has been nothing short of life saving for the entire country. In the U.S. at least, we are on the way to beating back the deadliest viral pandemic in history. Hospitalizations and deaths are both dwindling. But social workers tell us that the COVID-19 virus has inflicted long-lasting social and psychic effects on our society.
Much of the population is experiencing overwhelming stress from being socially isolated for lengthy periods of time during government-sanctioned lockdowns, placing unprecedented pressure on families and community systems. These conditions have increased incidences of serious psychic trauma across the entire social landscape. The traditional top-four has not changed, they have only gotten worse.
- Intimate partner violence
- Substance abuse
- Overdose deaths
One social worker put it like this:
"Dare I call attention to the mental health aspect of all of this? The anxiety and trauma are overwhelming at times even for those of us who don’t face ongoing mental health concerns; for those of us who do, it can be completely debilitating. We’re all trying to figure out what to do with the fear, uncertainty, and ambiguity of life as we know it right now. For some, it’s a matter of trying to stay safe and navigate threatening people or emotions. It’s been difficult for me to process the stories of domestic violence and suicide in the news…
"If I’m honest, I’m more concerned about mental health trends for several years following this pandemic. Fears about future security impacts the lives of people and families and, therefore, their stress and emotional health. For those hanging on by a thread, or whose thread already broke, will there be enough community resources left standing to support them? What about the fallout from the neglect and abuse that has gone undetected? I worry about the children and families who have been suffering and floundering because of isolation and the ability to turn off a camera or mic in a virtual world; no one has seen the faces streaked with tears or heard the hoarse whispers for help. When our present is so uncertain, it is troubling that the future holds so much uncertainty as well. This has weighed heavy on me in recent months."
Everyone Is Affected
A recent study conducted by Karestan Koenen, professor of psychiatric epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health views the effects of the pandemic as both acute and long-lasting, similar to those wrought by the Depression and World War II.
- "The pandemic packs a more enduring punch, affecting nearly every aspect of life with its long duration and widespread personal impacts like the deaths of loved ones and losses of jobs and businesses. The times are particularly difficult for those growing into adulthood and finding their place in the world."
- "Ongoing uncertainty takes a big toll. That's the basis of a traumatic stressor - unpredictability, uncontrollability - until it exceeds the ability of the organism to cope...
- "The pandemic is affecting every milestone: graduation, entering school, leaving school. For the older Gen-Zers: marriages, dating, jobs...”
A New Normal
Experts predict that as the national vaccination effort takes hold, the fear of imminent serious illness and possible sudden death lurking around every corner will subside. However, they say that some of our adaptations have accelerated already existing trends, like the development of a cashless society, the increase in remote work, and the decline of brick-and-mortar retail. They also say, however, that the most lasting impact may turn out to be one that is invisible: the marking of those coming of age in the pandemic era, much as the Great Depression and World War II marked their generations, with broad but hard-to-predict effects that will affect society for decades to come.
- Today’s young adults may think of health differently from earlier generations, as more of a common good than something intrinsically personal. If mask-wearing endures, they may not remember a time when not wearing one was acceptable.
- The pandemic’s traumas could lead to a rise in hopelessness.
- Physical distancing may accelerate existing trends to connect via social media rather than in person, which, though compensating somewhat for pandemic-induced isolation, may hold its own negative effects.
- Younger Americans already exhibit higher levels of anxiety and depression than older generations, and that will be exacerbated in the years to come by the impact of missed opportunities...
To a greater or lesser degree, no one will escape the transforming effects of this deadly pandemic.