• Titi Tade


Psychological trauma is a response to an event that a person finds highly stressful. Examples of stressful events can include being in a war zone, a natural disaster, or an accident. Trauma can cause a wide range of physical and emotional symptoms. Not everyone who experiences a stressful event will develop trauma. [1] Trauma at the personal level has been known to bend the understanding of oneself and one’s position in the world.

The term collective trauma refers to the psychological reactions to a traumatic event that affect an entire society. [2] Traumatic events are often witnessed by an entire community and often elicit a shared emotional reaction in them. Just as trauma is expressed differently by people, these shared emotional responses could range differently from one person to another. Collective trauma also changes the manner survivors perceive the world and understand the relationship between them and other groups.

Hirschbereger [2] described collective trauma as a cataclysmic event that shatters the basic fabric of society. Aside from the horrific loss of life, collective trauma is also a crisis of meaning.

In 2020, the world experienced the deadly COVID-19 virus that affected the social, psychological, and physical health of people. Due to its easy mode of transmission, social support systems, public institutions, and workplaces were shut down. In a matter of months, we went from people who had physical support and social lives to people who could only see loved ones and colleagues through a screen.

These led to shared feelings of anxiety, fear, and uncertainty in people all over the world. The COVID-19 pandemic has been termed a period of collective trauma, with researchers saying that the effects of the mass trauma it has inflicted will linger across societies for years. [3]

After the SARS outbreak in 2003, both healthcare workers and people who were self-quarantined exhibited symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The COVID-19 pandemic could have a similar effect, according to experts. [4]

For a country like Nigeria that has no recent serious prior experience with natural disasters such as tsunami and earthquake [5] and infectious diseases such as SARS, the country and its occupants seem overwhelmed with the COVID-19 pandemic. The novel COVID-19 pandemic has brought along with it, innovation and changes that Nigerians are not used to which can lead to psychological distress. [6]

According to the same research on psychological distress experiences of Nigerians during COVID-19 pandemic; the gender difference, the overall prevalence of insomnia indicated was 15% among the general public in Nigeria. [6]

The reason for the psychological effect of COVID-19 in Nigeria, as established by this study, ranges from fear of the disease, sense of being unsafe, and sense of neglect by the government. [7]

Experience with previous disasters has shown that survivors suffer from various mental health problems including posttraumatic stress disorder, major depressive disorder, anxiety disorders, phobias, fears with avoidant behaviors, and various neuropsychiatric disorders. The long-term mental health effects are anticipated to be intensified due to the pandemic affecting people worldwide. [8]

It is anticipated that medical and mental health practitioners will experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression, and substance use disorders. The impact of these disorders in the workplace long term will include absenteeism, disability, and unemployment. [9]

Common psychological reactions related to the lockdown and isolation measures put in place by governments which were imposed to attenuate the COVID-19 spread are generalized fear and pervasive community anxiety which are typically associated with disease outbreaks. As reported by Jeong et al, [10] frustration and pervasive loneliness seem to derive from the inhibition from daily activities, interruption of social necessities, and not taking part in social networking activities. [11]

Misinformation could also lead to long-term behavioral changes. Due to the unknown nature of the virus, information was scarce and vague at the initial stage which led to the spread of misinformation. Conspiracy theories and the different/diverse information out there on the topic also influenced mental health stressors. Generalized fear and pervasive community anxiety increased with inadequate, anxiety-provoking information that was provided by the media. [11]

Some groups may be more vulnerable than others to the psychosocial effects of pandemics. In particular, people who contract the disease, those at heightened risk for it (including the elderly, people with compromised immune function, and those living or receiving care in congregate settings), and people with pre-existing medical, psychiatric, or substance use problems are at increased risk for adverse psychosocial outcomes. [12]

On another hand, previous research shows that crises can have both negative and positive mental health effects on the population.

A recent study from England reported that although anxiety about the coronavirus had a negative impact on people, the lockdown measures also had benefits, such as more working at home, at least for some participants. [12]

The advantages of working from home as reported, include and are not limited to reduced commuting time, avoiding office politics, using less office space, increased motivation, improved gender diversity (e.g. women and careers), healthier workforces with less absenteeism and turnover, higher talent retention, job satisfaction, and better productivity [13]

To help mitigate the collective trauma effects of the virus, specific preventive strategies should be carried out at the community level such as providing adequate psychological services like telecounseling, virtual therapy and community mental health services. [11]

Health education and correct information on the virus need to be enhanced using online platforms especially by credible sources like the scientific community. Marginalized populations such as elderly individuals or those with psychological problems such as depression and anxiety should be able to actively consult with clinical psychologists and psychotherapists to rapidly detect warning signs of deterioration. [11]

Many of the experiences of patients, family members, and the public can be appropriately normalized by providing information about usual reactions to this kind of stress and by pointing out people can and do manage even in the midst of dire circumstances.

Health care providers should be provided with education and training regarding psychosocial issues. Health system leaders, first responders, and healthcare professionals should be able to offer suggestions for stress management, link patients to social and mental health services, and counsel patients to seek professional mental health assistance when needed.

News and information either in print or digitally on the internet needs to be reviewed and regulated by the scientific community and health bodies in order to make sure that only correct information is being sent out.

Finally, telemedicine should be implemented especially in areas where mental health services are poorly represented or severely impaired by the rapid spread of pandemic and lockdown restrictions. [11]


1. Leonard J. What is trauma? Types, symptoms, and treatments [Internet]. Medicalnewstoday.com. 2020 [cited 2021 Apr 3]. Available from: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/trauma

2. Hirschberger G. Collective trauma and the social construction of meaning. Front Psychol. 2018;9:1441.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7337855/

3. Prideaux E. How to heal the “mass trauma” of Covid-19. BBC [Internet]. [cited 2021 Apr 22]; Available from: https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20210203-after-the-covid-19-pandemic-how-will-we-heal

4. Stieg C. Could you get PTSD from your pandemic experience? The long-term mental health effects of coronavirus [Internet]. CNBC. 2020 [cited 2021 Apr 22]. Available from: https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.cnbc.com/amp/2020/04/17/long-term-mental-health-ptsd-effects-of-covid-19-pandemic-explained.html

5. Usnews.com. [cited 2021 Apr 22]. Available from: https://www.usnews.com/news/best-countries/slideshows/10-of-the-deadliest-natural-disasters-in-2018?slide=11

6. Olaseni AO, Akinsola OS, Agberotimi SF, Oguntayo R. Psychological distress experiences of Nigerians during Covid-19 pandemic; the gender difference. Social Sciences & Humanities Open. 2020;2(1):100052.

7. Durowade K, Sanni T, Adeniyi M, Babalola S, Popoola T, Adebara I, et al. Psychological, socioeconomic effects of COVID-19 pandemic and associated prevalent self-reported vulnerability factors among residents of Southwest Nigeria. Niger J Med. 2020;29(4):566.

8. Iqbal SZ, Li B, Onigu-Otite E, Naqvi MF, Shah AA. The long-term mental health effects of COVID-19. Psychiatr Ann. 2020;50(12):522–5.

9. Mhanys.org. [cited 2021 Apr 3]. Available from: https://mhanys.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/POL_20200429_LegIssue-CollectiveTrauma.pdf

10. Jeong H, Yim HW, Song Y-J, Ki M, Min J-A, Cho J, et al. Mental health status of people isolated due to Middle East Respiratory Syndrome. Epidemiol Health. 2016;38:e2016048.

11. Serafini G, Parmigiani B, Amerio A, Aguglia A, Sher L, Amore M. The psychological impact of COVID-19 on the mental health in the general population. QJM. 2020;113(8):531–7.

12. Pfefferbaum B, North CS. Mental health and the covid-19 pandemic. N Engl J Med. 2020;383(6):510–2.

13. Vyas L, Butakhieo N. The impact of working from home during COVID-19 on work and life domains: an exploratory study on Hong Kong. Policy Design and Practice. 2021;4(1):59–76.

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