The COVID-19 pandemic could inflict long-lasting emotional trauma on an unprecedented global scale leaving millions wrestling with debilitating psychological disorders. This collective trauma has combined mental health stressors that have been studied before in other disasters, but has never been consolidated in one global crisis. For example, not even the 9/11 terrorist attacks or World War II are adequate comparisons to the COVID-19 pandemic because the psychological stress caused by those events were limited by geography, did not involve mandatory quarantines or isolation, and did not have ongoing stressors of physical health threats–all which independently have been documented by research to increase anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress symptoms. Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic “shelter in place” and “social distancing” practices challenge the most reliable methods of mitigating the effects of trauma–relational connectedness to consistent, predictable, trustworthy people–by reducing or eliminating social contact. Given the quarantine circumstances, individuals are forced to adapt their coping strategies to manage the stress of COVID-19.
Currently, the United States has the largest COVID-19 outbreak in the world. It is unknown the extent to which the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting the emotional trauma of Americans. Of particular interest is how first responders and essential classified workers (e.g., food service) are coping with the psychological stress of their job, and what strategies the general public is using to manage the stress of COVID-19. Researchers at the Center on Trauma and Adversity have collected pilot data and are preparing to launch a study to collect a nationally representative sample of US adults. The primary aims of this study will be to (1) produce state and national estimates of mental health symptoms related to COVID-19 and (2) identify the ways in which individuals are building resilience and coping with the psychological stress of COVID-19.