Long-term social distancing may be traumatic

States in the U.S. have been enforcing social distancing regulations for over one month. Many areas have been under quarantine for nearly twice that long. 

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to disrupt daily life and limit social interactions, mental health experts warn that the psychological effects could be significant—even traumatic. 

What is trauma? Psychological trauma can be broken down into several types and subtypes, but the term is generally used to mean a distressing incident or series of incidents that damage the psyche and diminish an individual’s ability to cope or function normally.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (or PTSD) is a mental health condition caused by trauma that may appear months or years after the traumatic event. According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms of PTSD include intrusive memories, avoidance, anxiety, and negative changes in thinking or mood.

It is entirely possible that the COVID-19 pandemic and the related social isolation may cause PTSD symptoms in a large portion of the population, according to mental health experts. 

A review of 24 studies of quarantine during disease in The Lancet medical journal found that most studies reported negative psychological effects of quarantine, including PTSD symptoms, confusion and anger.  

Both healthcare workers and people who self-quarantined experienced PTSD after the SARS outbreak of 2003, reports CNBC.

“The scale of this [COVID-19] outbreak as a traumatic event is almost beyond comprehension,” said Yuval Neria, the director of trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder at the New York State Psychiatric Institute and a professor of psychology at Columbia University Medical Center.

If you or a loved one are experiencing symptoms of PTSD resulting from social isolation or the COVID-19 pandemic, the National Alliance on Mental Illness and the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies both have resources for understanding and managing PTSD.