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News Update

The last two years of trauma may have lasting impact, report suggests

The pandemic has surely been the most traumatic collective event of our lifetimes. After two grim years and more than a million deaths, it is still unclear when the pandemic will end. But it is clear, experts say, that the trauma may have a long-lasting impact.

In a new report, researchers at Georgia State University who have been studying how people are coping with the stress of the pandemic, suggest the mental health crisis is just beginning and that uncertainty is one of the key stressors, along with worries about health, family, and finances that take a toll on mental health. The risk to those in caregiving roles, such as nurses, teachers or parents, may be the greatest, experts say. 

In a recent survey, the American Psychological Association also found that nearly two-thirds of respondents said their lives have been permanently changed by the pandemic. The report showed that many people have been living in “sustained survival mode” with grave consequences for mental health. The rise of anxiety and depression may just be beginning, some warn.

“I think the mental health issue is percolating, just like a virus incubating,” says Laura Shannonhouse, associate professor of counseling and psychological services at Georgia State College of Education and Human Development. “We’re seeing little pieces now, but it’s like an iceberg. Most of it is still below the surface.”

Jeff Ashby, co-director of Georgia State’s Ken Matheny Center for the Study of Stress, Trauma and Resilience, recently surveyed 745 people to examine whether the strain of the pandemic could lead to stress disorders, and if so, which groups are most at risk. The results, published in the Journal of Community Psychology, showed the pandemic is an independent source of traumatic stress and, for some people, that stress can predict post-traumatic stress disorder.

“When we first began our research, we thought, ‘We must hurry, because of course, this will be over soon…’ and two years later we still don’t know what’s going to happen,” says Ashby. “I think that’s the hard part. It’s still a moving target.”