Trauma is something that happens following a deeply distressing or disturbing experience. It is emotional shock that develops after a stressful event or a physical injury, which may lead to long-term mental health problems. The word "trauma" itself derives from a Greek word meaning "wound". Just as with a physical wound if a trauma is not treated it may never heal – and may start to get worse.
On May 2nd 2020, the U.K. newspaper The Guardian published an article titled ‘Britons will suffer health problems from Covid-19 for years, warn doctors’. They reported that post-traumatic stress disorder, organ damage and other psychological effects will be felt for years to come as a result of economic desolation, individual isolation, sickness and stress related to these unprecedented times.
But Great Britain isn’t the only country who will feel these side effects of COVID-19 for years to come. Across America, 20.5 million people lost their job in April alone. As reported by The New York Times, this is ‘the worst devastation since The Great Depression’.
COVID-19 has changed the way each and every one of us live. While we’re rallying together to pull through this trying time, the true side effects of COVID-19 are yet to be felt.
Here are some of the long-term side effects to expect from COVID-19.
1. A rise in severe depression and suicide
According to analysis by The Wellbeing Group, as many as 75,000 Americans are at risk from overdose and suicide as a direct result of COVID-19. As the number of unemployed continues to climb and the pandemic widens to affect more people, the group believe that there will be a significant rise in ‘deaths of despair’ as the mounting stress, isolation and economic pressures weigh on people.
For us here at Tikvah Lake Recovery, these numbers are concerning, especially since we’re yet to see any state or federal action taken to mitigate against this. The best chance we have right now, then, is to help. We must help each other through this tough time, and we must provide a shoulder of support whenever we can. After all, no person is an island and we’re all facing this pandemic together.
If you are concerned about a loved one, consider seeking professional help as soon as possible, or call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline here.
2. Emotional and physical burnout
Compassion fatigue is a real and concerning thing. In short, compassion fatigue means burning out because you have remained in a state of tension, stress and preoccupation with another person’s emotional state.
During this time, people need people. And while this sense of community is vital to our success against the pandemic, it’s important to remember that in order to take care of others, you must first take care of yourself.
‘Throwing yourself under the bus’, so to speak, to help someone else out will only result in your mental health concerns later on. Be sure to remain balanced and mentally healthy yourself. Only then can you help others.
3. Executive burnout
Whoever you are, burnout is probably your biggest fight right now. If you’re working from home, chances are you’re trying to over-deliver on projects to retain your sense of value and avoid getting fired. If you’re an executive, you’re likely working overtime (more so than you ever have before) in order to differentiate your business and keep it afloat.
While working too hard might be a necessary sacrifice to be made right now, it’s critical to your long-term success that you continue to manage your work-life balance. This is especially the case if you’re currently working from home, and the lines of ‘on’ and ‘off’ have been blurred.
Many frontline workers will likely suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after COVID-19. Not only is the vulnerability of contacting a life-threatening illness in your everyday environment stressful (or the idea of spreading this to others), it’s extremely traumatic to witness death on a daily basis.
PTSD is characterized by four types of symptoms:
Re-experiencing trauma through memory, flashbacks and nightmares
Avoidance of places, people and activities that remind us of the trauma
Negative changes in thoughts and emotions associated with trauma
Increased feelings of anger, difficulty sleeping and concentrating, irritability and other signs of stress.
If you begin to notice these symptoms in yourself or your loved ones as a result of the pandemic, it might be time to intervene and seek professional help.
Seeking coping strategies for COVID-19
During the height of this pandemic, the best thing you can do is remain vigilant of your own responses. Are you feeling overly stressed, unhappy or anxious? If so, what can you do for yourself to try and counter these feelings?
In some cases, holistic wellness practices like more yoga, meditation, exercise and a balanced diet might be all that’s required to help you maintain a happy state of mind. In other cases, it might be turning to family members for support and guidance.
In some extreme cases, though, you might feel yourself struggling more than you realise, and if you’re prone to relapse or you know you have an addictive personality, this could be enough of a sign that you need to find professional help.
Almost all adults are products of their childhood experiences. Whether you had a sheltered childhood, or you were witness or victim to a traumatic event, adulthood is about understanding how these past experiences affect us, as well as learning how to carry them forward in a positive way.
Unfortunately, many problems that begin to occur during adulthood – like depression, anxiety, cardiovascular disease and obesity – are often the direct result of childhood trauma that has gone untreated.
While it is vital to treat these ailments that arise, it’s also important to address the root experiences that have caused these things to grow in the first place. For many, that means revisiting traumatic events that were experienced at an impressionable age – it means uncovering childhood trauma.
Here’s how childhood trauma affects health across a lifetime.
Trauma and the effect on brain development
Childhood is a crucial time for brain development, and this development during the early years of life is key to how we learn, respond and behave later on. Often, a child’s brain is compared to that of a dry sponge – it is ready and quickly able to retain a lot of water (or in this case, information).
But brain development is not dependent on the biological process. Rather, it depends on environmental factors including prenatal care, nutrition, and parenting. Through these experiences, information is collected and interpreted, and it is here that a child learns fundamental life lessons like the boundaries of right and wrong, their ethical compass, how to critically think, and how to safeguard against possible dangers.
Negative past experiences that cause trauma, however (or traumatic experiences like the absence of a parental caregiver) have a profound effect on how a child’s brain will develop, and this will change how they respond to society in later life. For example, a traumatic experience in childhood may prime the brain to be expecting fear around all corners. In adulthood, this will lead to a heightened sense of stress in everyday life, and chronic stress is determined as ‘one of the six leading causes of death’.
Understanding and accepting our past experiences, then, is crucial to overcoming the maladies that arise in adulthood.
The difficulty of learning new behaviors in adulthood
The challenge associated with overcoming something like childhood trauma in adulthood is our ability to ‘think differently’. Adult brains are often less porous than childhood brains, and it can be challenging to shift perspective and reach a level of acceptance that helps us reduce the consequences associated with trauma.
This is especially true in someone who experienced severe trauma at a young age. Past traumatic events will impede one’s physical, emotional and spiritual sense of sense, and their brain development will likely have been halted or negatively impacted as a result. To learn a new way of looking at the world, then, can be tough.
Felitti and Anda asked 17,500 adults about their ACEs (adverse childhood experiences) and asked them to range from physical experiences, to emotional ones, sexual abuse, parental neglect and the impact of parental mental illness or substance abuse, or even imprisonment.
An ACE scoring procedure was then devised, and for each answer that a participant answered ‘yes’, they gained a point. These scores were then correlated against health outcomes of each individual.
Felitti and Anda discovered something startling in their study: ACEs are common, and 67 percent of the participants experienced at least one ACE, while 12.6 percent had four or more. More importantly, there was a positive correlation between ACE scores and negative health outcomes in adulthood.
For example, a participant that scored four or more ACEs, their risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease was two and a half times more than someone with an ACE score of zero.
Ultimately, what this study proves is that most negative past experiences are ingrained in our brains for the rest of our lives and they negatively impact our health.
Understanding the recovery journey for childhood trauma
The recovery journey isn’t necessarily about eradicating childhood trauma – ultimately, things like sexual abuse and parental neglect can’t ever be ignored or forgotten. Rather, viable treatment options are about understanding the effect that these experiences have had on a person as an adult and learning the tools and tricks to help manage, accept and retake control over negative childhood traumas. That way, the all-too-common side effects can diminish, and a person can live a happier and healthier life.
To find out more about how childhood trauma affects health across a lifetime, you can watch Nadine Burke Harris, Founder and CEO of Center for Youth Wellness, an initiative seeking to create a clinical model that recognizes and effectively treats toxic stress in children, speak in the TED Talk below. You can also explore this interview with her by The New York Times.
For how Tikvah Lake Recovery can help guide you through the process of overcoming negative childhood experiences, as well as how we treat the side effects that arise as a consequence, contact our admissions team today.