A viral incident

It may be helpful to look at the SARS-CoV-2 / COVID-19 pandemic from the perspective of those who professionally assist people with psychological adjustment soon after they experience traumatic and other loss experiences. This mental health intervention is psychological first aid, but don’t think of it as a ‘band-aid’.

Psychological first aid

Psychological first aid helps people honor but also contain their grief process. It can help prevent a downward spiraling immediately after the loss. It allows people the chance to take a small step back from what is often a disturbing and grievous incident.

For a broken bone to heal properly, it must be set soon after the break. Then, the natural healing process can take place.

Stage 1: Impact

We are still in the “impact” stage of a disaster that’s very unlike single events. Recognizing that we are trying to recover during the impact phase is helpful for understanding one’s feelings at this time. We do not know how much loss of life and socio-economic damage we will ultimately see from this, even as we grieve most of the day’s news.

Psychological injury

The number of people who are psychologically injured from the impact stage is usually greater than the number of physically/medically injured. Most estimates put the multiple at about 5x.

Psych injury may not be as grievous, but it’s far more widespread. We must realize this as a typical outcome, rather than a sign that we will fail to psychologically reconstruct.

Stage 2: Disillusionment

While we of course celebrate the work of heroes in this fight, heroism can be part of an exhausting cycle. Heroic acts lift us up, but bad news keeps happening. Psychologically this can result in disillusionment, a test of emotional endurance. Understanding this course of events can “inoculate” us against the discouragement we might feel on a daily basis.

Stage 3: Recovery

Right now, we cannot accurately predict when this stage might begin. We can describe recovery as a gradual act of psychological reconstruction. Coping thoughts predominate. Meaningful learning occurs. Anxiety subsides enough that the new normal is tolerable.

Gaining perspective

Understanding the stages of human response to this disaster is helpful for understanding & then managing stress. What we want to avoid is this, a longer more durable psychological damage. While the ‘big picture’ understanding briefly described here is not an all-in solution to stress, it grounds the process in a helpful, mature way.

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