I spent most of last weekend doing what I could to avoid the 9/11-related headlines in the news. With my Manhattan-below-14th-Street recollections of the event, last year’s immersion in the pandemic epicenter and the continuing pandemic, I didn’t have the bandwidth for it.
What I did find the energy for was a Speaking of Psychology podcast interview of Roxane Cohen Silver, Ph.D., a psychologist who studies the effects of trauma on individuals and communities.
She discussed the notion of “cascading collective trauma,” by which she means multiple catastrophes experienced by large groups of people, one after the other, each one compounding the impact of the prior stressor.
In “Coping with cascading collective traumas in the United States,” she and her co-authors note that “each of these crises may independently have mental health consequences for exposed individuals, ranging from short-term anxiety to longer-term depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).”
The stressors that have occurred in the last year and a half, “the COVID-19 pandemic, an economic recession, race-driven social unrest and weather-related disasters,” have had a particularly strong impact on long-term care staff, who were grappling with multiple stressors while having direct exposure to COVID-19 losses.
Promisingly, Silver et al. cite a study of community trauma that found reduced levels of PTSD in an area that had “more community commitment, integration, strong social networks and instrumental and emotional support.” In a location with similar stressors, but no such support and “high vulnerabilities, including limited education, low income and immigrant status,” there were “substantial symptoms of distress and PTSD.”
This research suggests that there are actions organizations can take to reduce the impact of cascading collective trauma. Given the well-known connections between trauma, burnout and turnover, and the state of staffing in LTC, this is an urgent and important matter.
Reducing collective trauma
Organizations can consider whether everyday procedures are helping staff cope or adding further to collective trauma.