Are We Numb To The Traumas?
Climate disasters, pandemics, mass shootings, violence, and racial conflicts, all in one year. Each of these crises may subconsciously cause trauma to our minds. Along with the increase of mass media exposure, now every part of the world can easily access the reports of these events of catastrophe, creating mental health vulnerability not only for those who were directly affected but also those that have been exposed to the news over and over again.
Cascading collective traumas is what Roxane Cohen Silver would like to call them. A combination of traumas from chronic events with an indefinite ending, still holding the mystery of how bad things will get or when things will stop and start recovering.
Silver is a professor of psychological science, medicine, and mental health at the University of California, Irvine. For as long as 40-years of her career, Silver has studied the effects of collective trauma on the community.
Her decades-long research shows that each of these events may independently have mental health consequences that can range from short-term anxiety to long-term depression and post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD).
Her previous research in the population exposed to the outbreak cases of 2003 SARS and 2014 Ebola, indicates the health care workers and the general population experienced significant mental health difficulty, especially those in lower socioeconomic groups. These people still have to deal with financial troubles, employment issues, or housing-related matters despite the ongoing infectious disease outbreak.
The more recent instances of violence aimed at Black Americans also caused a decline in mental health among Black Americans, while the data shows that white Americans do not experience the same mental health decline.
Then, when the pandemic started in March 2020, Silver and two of her colleagues began another study on the impact of this massive loss on the mental health of the US community and how they cope with this level of tragedy.
In an interview with CNN, Silver stated that these collective traumas can be too much to bear. But the effect of repeated exposure to the negative news remains unclear, whether we are numb to the traumas or not, especially in the case of increasing gun violence.
Repetitive media coverage of all the crises causes an indirect exposure to the events. The graphic images, according to their research, are found to play the biggest role in agitating stress.
The combined effects of direct and indirect exposure to collective traumas are found to be associated with increased psychological symptoms. If this occurs repeatedly, over time, it can initiate a cycle of exposure and symptoms appear. To put it simply, seeing a graphic image related to traumatic events can cause the development of psychological disorders.
Regardless, Silver believes that human beings are resilient, and we can cope with these crises by engaging in things that are self-protecting. Stepping away from the news, reaching out to loved ones, and taking more time for self-care are some ways to thrive during this pandemic.
Since the pandemic has cost us many lives, Silver also stated that it’s important to recognize the loss as an important and meaningful thing for each individual. Respect it by not reducing the experience that one had and providing support to one another.
This also addresses the need for policymakers to allocate additional resources to support the community's mental health and create policies that emphasize economic and racial inequity. Additional resources could include financial, social, and emotional support, along with educational resources especially for those at lower socioeconomic levels, without compromising the safety of the residents.
As vaccine rollouts have been going strong, a new future awaits. Silver thinks it’s important to believe that we will get through this, that humans are more capable of being resilient than we may think. She is confident that this all shall pass, and we will get past them. In this horrendous time, we still hold hope for our future.
A combination of catastrophic events can build a cascading collective trauma.
Graphic images play the biggest role in agitating stress.
Engaging in self-protecting activities helps to relieve stress.
There is a need for additional resource allocation to ease the mental and physical health burden.