The battle is still on to save lives during the Covid crisis. As a traumatised world, we are just trying to get through. But Jill Carter wonders how we start to tackle the mental health consequences of the trauma caused by the pandemic.
I watched the faces on the news this week of the bereaved and health care workers. I noticed something I see every day as a trauma therapist. Shock. Life has changed on an emotional and psychological level because of a traumatic event. Or, if you are working on the front line you are facing trauma after trauma. I heard a comment, ‘the beds don’t even get cold’. How are we supposed to help health care workers process images, memories and feelings they have to suppress to get through a shift?
That stuckness – inability to process – will be one of the long term mental health consequences of trauma
However, it’s not just workers on the front line in the NHS or education who have experienced trauma. Many of us are developing symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder. In particular, not being able to sleep, intrusive thoughts and restlessness. To process the physical and mental effects of trauma we need two things. Firstly, down time. Secondly, a connection to someone who is feeling safe. We are social creatures. So, the psychological trauma is made worse by not being able to hug each other. In fact, we co-regulate, which means that I use touch to soothe you and you do the same for me. Without that, we are isolated which exacerbates health conditions.
The mental health consequences of the pandemic will hit survivors of childhood trauma
Adverse childhood experiences include neglect, sexual assault and parental substance abuse. In addition, there is a digital divide between rich and poor. Poverty, racism and health inequalities are an increasing part of many children’s futures. Many haven’t got a decent meal. Others are spending lockdown with the people whose abuse including sexual brought them into counselling in the first place. Many of our clients were already struggling day to day before Covid struck. How much worse is it going to get?
I can’t fixate on the future – that way lies madness. So, I breathe and ask myself, what can I do now?
I can try to be still in the moment. We can ground ourselves and connect to our deeper sense of self. In the Buddhist sense, we can be the ocean not just the egoic and frightened wave. The sea fears nothing. Have you ever been around someone who exudes that sense of calmness? It’s very attractive and it’s also catching. So, take a moment to notice that worrying mind and bring your attention home to your body. As many times as it takes. And again. Any type of mindfulness, breathing or even humming will help here. As I say, it’s catching, so you can pass that warm sense of presence onto those around you.
Of course, the solution requires massive investment in mental health services. Local authorities, CAMHS and schools urgently need money to provide help with a mental health problem. There will have to be a largescale recruitment of counsellors and supervisors to help meet that need. Public pressure will help focus politicians’ minds. So, I can sign that petition and lobby my MP. Fundraising not only raises funds but also awareness. Therefore, I can donate and share on social media the valiant efforts of those who are doing something.
We have a real opportunity to build a new community here. The antidote to trauma is hope and connection.
I’m encouraged by the quote from the American children’s TV host, Fred Rogers:
When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
I hope that we can find kindness and compassion for one another. That we can acknowledge the importance of mental health to all of us. I hope it stops being the poor relation in the NHS, in education, government and the bear pit that can be social media.
I believe there should be moments of recognition of the scale of what we faced.
Like Joe Biden’s lanterns at the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool, “To heal, we must remember,” Biden said, “It’s hard sometimes to remember, but that’s how we heal. It’s important to do that as a nation.” And as a planet. Archetypal ritual is a part of this healing.
The counselling industry itself needs to take a long hard look in the mirror. We need more diverse voices if we are to meet the challenges ahead. Also, there are many effective therapies like EMDR and EFT which are more helpful than purely evidence-based ones. There is no evidence that love exists, yet we know it’s the only true transformative force. So, can you open your heart to a creative and different view of trauma? Can you allow a song, gentle movement or sighing breath to heal your client instead of that probing analytical question?
Thinking about the mental health consequences of trauma keeps me awake at night too. The trauma guru Stephen Porges talks about the healing power of the wrinkles around your eyes. It is our individual humanity that will save us. One wrinkly smile at a time.