Tamar Rodney, PhD, PMHNP-BC: How COVID-Related Trauma Is Different from Other Traumas

What sets COVID-related trauma apart is the fact that—unlike most traumas that result from one event—COVID-related trauma has occurred from a repeated series of events.

We all thought the pandemic would last a few weeks at most. When it started, we did not know much about what was to come: many, many deaths and illnesses, loss of jobs, financial worries, juggling work/school and family from home, vaccines, masks, quarantine. We can and will heal, but we may need to acknowledge that we are forever changed in ways we could never have before imagined.

Tamar Rodney, PhD, PMHNP-BC, CNE is an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins School of Nursing. Her research and clinical work focus primarily on improving PTSD diagnosis and treatment.

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How is COVID-related trauma different from other trauma? Trauma, as previously defined, textbook defined, is an event. It’s a bad event that has happened to you or someone else, someone you love, or you’ve seen it secondhand.

With COVID, we have something that is very different. And I say different because it’s been recurring trauma, a recurring series of trauma. And I say this very empathetically because it’s something that I think you have experienced, and I’ve experienced it the same way because I honestly thought this thing was to be for three weeks. And then comes another layer, which we weren’t quite prepared for, nor we know what to do, but it’s bad so it’s in essence traumatic. And we’ve had another wave of it related to vaccines and mask and staying out of work.

So, it’s multiple times that we have had to respond to a negative event and also seeing it be an experience about other individuals. And it is in those contexts that I say it’s much like how trauma is experienced, except that it’s experienced multiple times over and over again, which makes it really bad.

And I don’t want to be alarming, but I do want us to be conscious about how very different and how long this exposure has been and how detrimental that might be on individuals who are having negative effects from something that we really don’t really see an end date to, and it has outcomes which are uniquely negative for individuals.

So, it has been and continues to be a traumatic event like we’ve seen before, but I think in its repetitive form could actually be worse than what we’ve seen before.

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Posted on BrainLine November 23, 2021. Reviewed November 23, 2021.