Editor’s note: This is part of a series presented by CenClear and The Meadows in partnership with The Courier Express during Mental Health Awareness Month.
Shutdowns, isolation and fear encompassed the world during the COVID-19 pandemic, but as people begin to return to some semblance of normal — the impact remains.
“In my opinion, any mass trauma affects people in different ways,” Melissa Buhler, CenClear director of the Community and School-Based Behavioral Health Program and a nationally certified trauma-focused therapist, said. “The pandemic, like natural disasters and wars, left people without resources and residual stress. We are now left picking up the pieces.”
The pandemic caused a lot of confusion. There was panic, changing data, financial impacts and shutdowns. Even places that people have traditionally gone to for help, had to change to telehealth services, which are not always the preferred method for clients.
Although the threat of COVID seems to be less imminent today than it was in 2020, people are still dealing with its effects.
“I think people, in general, are feeling more restless, on edge, uneasy...and just feeling easily fatigued and tired,” Buhler said. In the workplace, for instance, many employees are finding themselves working more hours, or covering for positions employers have been unable to fill.
She said some people may be concerned if a loved one gets sick that it’s COVID. Children, forced into virtual learning during shutdowns, may have difficulty concentrating or adjusting to in-class learning. This may be especially true for young children who had little in-person learning experience before the shutdowns.
It’s important to keep the lines of communication open, Buhler said. She said parents should ask children about their thoughts and feelings. She also recommends asking them who they can turn to for support outside of their home. There are also videos and books that can help children deal with feelings of anger and anxiety.
Families may still be dealing with disappointment from not being able to attend funerals during the shutdowns or participate in important moments.
“Humans are naturally social beings,” Buhler said. “People thrive on social experiences, and during the pandemic, children were told schools were unsafe, many people in nursing homes were restricted to no visitors; some didn’t see family for two years,” she said. “This caused widespread depression.”
Just as those who lived through the Great Depression passed on the impact of that experience to their children, the pandemic could affect future generations. It could lead to parents being extra cautious, or it could even lead to neglect, Buhler said. When a person experiences trauma, it can be triggered at any time, and the person may not understand why they are being triggered, she said. Some people may choose to self-medicate or self-isolate to deal with the pain caused by a trauma and end up neglecting their children.
Buhler said it’s not that people heal from trauma, but grow from it. “Trauma is an opportunity for growth and change,” Buhler said. “With trauma, you never get over it, but you can learn to live with that. There is help out there.”
It’s important to be aware of what can trigger the feelings brought about by the trauma and to identify ways to cope with it when it happens, she said. If the impact of trauma is affecting your daily life, it never hurts to call for a consultation to see if someone can help, she said.
CenClear is dedicated to providing early childhood, preschool, mental health and drug and alcohol services to children, teens, adults and families. CenClear has office locations that offer mental health services in DuBois, Clearfield, Punxsutawney, St. Marys and beyond.