In a world that frequently experiences large-scale disasters like extreme storms, mass violence, and economic downturns, dealing with collective trauma is not an unfamiliar challenge. But in the case of coronavirus, that trauma can’t be separated from social isolation. Already, a third of Americans reported experiencing high levels of psychological distress during this pandemic, including more than half of people who described their financial situation as poor, according to the Pew Research Center.
In times like these, our instinct is to find comfort in our networks of friends and family, and in our community.Research by psychology professor Roxane Cohen Silver at the University of California, Irvine, has looked at how societies reacted to traumatic situations and found that communities became closer as people sought out the company of their loved ones and their neighbors. After the 9/11 attacks, people were more likely to seek greater meaning through engagement in religious and political activities that helped boost their well-being. And inside a small Israeli town that endured seven years of constant bombing, communities that got together in tight-knit groups and supported one another through sharing of resources did best in coping with attacks, Silver said.
The cruel irony is that the infectious nature of the coronavirus has forced billions of people across the globe to stay home and cope, or even grieve, alone. That may come with its own set of consequences, which could be especially pronounced among those who have had to be put in forced isolation.