The True Impact Of Collective Trauma

Written on 08/02/2023
Sophie Kirk

Have you felt a little different over the last few years? Not quite yourself, like something has changed?

You’re not alone if you do. Since 2020 the world has been a very different place. For 2 long years we were all weathering the same storm in our own little lifeboats, and even if you didn’t catch Covid-19 yourself, the impact it had on society is hard to deny. It had an effect on every single one of us.

There’s a word for that experience and the changes it’s brought. Collective trauma. You might have heard the term used before, but not really known what it meant, or how it could apply to you.

Let’s Talk About Trauma

Before we talk about collective trauma, we want to talk a little about trauma in general. When we talk about trauma, it’s generally split into two categories, Big T Trauma and Little t Trauma.

Big T Trauma: These are the events most often associated with causing PTSD, and tend to be the big, life-altering events anyone can recognise as traumatic. Examples of this include serious injury, sexual violence, life-threatening experiences, and even threats of the same. Even being a witness to such events or working in close proximity to trauma survivors (think paramedics, therapists and police officers) can be impacted by Big T Trauma.

Little t Trauma: Little T Trauma’s are those highly distressing events that impact you as an individual on a personal level, but don’t fall into that ‘Big T’ category. For example, a non-life-threatening injury, emotional abuse, the death of a pet or loved one, bullying or harassment, infidelity, or the loss of a significant relationship. Even significant financial difficulties can cause a Little t Trauma. All of these things will have an effect on you mentally, and they can stack up to create compounded issues.

When someone experiences trauma, in either camp, it will impact the way they think, feel and react to the world around them. It can mean that their fight or flight response is triggered more often by events that don’t always warrant it. It can make you more vulnerable to developing mental health problems or substance abuse issues. Or it can make it harder for you to trust people, to look after yourself or to manage your emotions effectively. 

What Is Collective Trauma?

Collective trauma is a psychological term often used by mental health professionals. It refers to the psychological distress that a group experience in response to a shared trauma. This is usually an entire culture, community, or another large group of people. War, occupation, natural disaster, catastrophic accidents and terrorist attacks are all examples of incidents that can cause collective trauma, with the most well-known in recent memory being The Holocaust, the 9/11 terror attacks, and the Sandy Hook shooting.

Except now, we can add another collective trauma event to the list, and it’s one that’s affected pretty much every human across the world. If you haven’t guessed it yet, we’re talking about the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Fight And Flight Of Covid 

Covid-19 is perhaps one of the largest causes of collective trauma in history, purely because of the global nature of the pandemic. It was one of those ‘once in a century’ moments that spanned the world over, and it’s left us all with psychological scars. Research has shown that the pandemic increased feelings of anguish and PTSD among the general population, along with increased stress, anxiety and depression that have lasted even after the main outbreak subsided. Covid-19 triggered the survival response in all of us, and it kept those responses triggered for a very long time. Older or more vulnerable people were affected hardest by this, and the collective trauma inflicted will still be felt across society for years. 

If you don’t think you’ve been affected by it, take some time to ask yourself if that’s really true. If you still feel like the same person, with the same thought processes and responses as you did pre-2020. The signs may be subtle. You might wash your hands more often or more diligently than you did before. Maybe you don’t risk going out as much if you’re feeling unwell, feel more anxious in crowds, or you opt to have your groceries delivered so that you don’t have to go into a busy supermarket? So even if you don’t feel like you’ve changed, you almost certainly have.

So now the question is, how do we heal from collective trauma? How do we move on from it, and get ourselves into a healthier, happier place? While it may be tempting to repress out emotions and dismiss out individual experiences, this can ultimately have a lot of negative consequences on your mental and physical health. Instead, reaching out for support from the NHS or a private counsellor can help you to process your feelings, as well as give you support in building your resilience. 

Practicing mindfulness and meditation has proven useful for some people, while hypnotherapy and EFT have also worked well for others. Finding techniques that work for you is key. What can be difficult is you don’t know what’s out there, so for access to a wide range of mental wellbeing tools and techniques Melp is great! Find tools you like and store them in your favourites to start building your own mental healt tool box.