Post-Pandemic Stress Disorder
The next pandemic will be psychological.
Posted May 1, 2020
When the extreme contagion is over, when we have a vaccine or an effective treatment, when we can safely emerge from our individual cocoons, there may be another pandemic waiting for us. The next epidemic will involve mental health and will have to be managed in part by psychologists.
Those who can are beginning to access psychotherapeutic services being offered online. At best, these services reach a small number of people and are offered mainly in cultures that already value modern psychology. Of course, not everyone is among this group in any society. These forms of emergency trauma therapy are largely designed to treat symptoms and not causes.
What the current pandemic has done so abruptly is to draw back the veil that allows most of us to function on a daily basis. That veil provides a sense of safety and a denial of the eventual death of each and every one of us. If this veil did not offer us partial unconsciousness, we would all no doubt choke on our fears on a daily basis.
The coming psychological crisis must not be labeled a war. Instead it will be an existential crisis, a dealing with the loss of safety and security, of the seemed predictability of life and a serious loss of faith. These will, for many of us, be replaced or accompanied by enormous grief. We will choke on our own fear. And we will get mired in this grief and fear, unable to move on as it grabs us and pulls us back into it like a vortex of psychological quicksand. Psychologists call this reaction post-traumatic stress disorder.
The symptoms that we are about to experience in enormous numbers, the nightmares, panic attacks, and even suicidality are not so much an illness as they are the result of severe injury to us all. While psychotherapy may be useful in controlling or even obliterating some of the more obvious symptoms, a clear focus on meaning/mattering is a deeper and long-lasting solution. Many studies have demonstrated that those who survive severe illness, injury, or trauma are able to make meaning. They begin to live on a mattering map and that is where they find safety and life satisfaction.
So consider deeply what really matters to you and what your purpose is to be in your life going forward. Commit to it and live it. Mattering is a force stronger than and prior to matter. It is a force that binds us together as a species just as gravity binds us to the planet. That force is genetic, biological, psychological, and interpersonal and transnational. As gravity keeps us on this earth, so mattering is the force that keeps us together in life.
Kaschak, E. The mattering map: morphing and multiplicity. In Bruns, C. and Kaschak, E.(Eds.) Feminist Therapy in the 21st Century, Taylor and Francis, 2010.
Kaschak, E. To Trump, some lives matter. In B. Lee, M.D. (Ed.) The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump, St. Martin’s Press, 2018.