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Collective trauma leads to collective healing

A New York emergency room medical director recently died by suicide. The doctor’s family said the trauma of caring for COVID-19 patients caused her death.

Everyone experiences trauma differently. And many communities around the world—including Pierce County—experience collective trauma.

Our lives have all been very different for several months. Even as we take a step closer to normalcy with our move to Phase 2, the traumatic effects of the pandemic linger. And many people are experiencing collective trauma as they confront the historical trauma of racism and oppression.

Tranquil photo of Lake Tapps in early fall, with a view of Mt. Rainier and large clouds in the background.

What is collective trauma?

Collective trauma is psychological stress a group of people or an entire community experience. The shared reaction to traumatic events can influence the culture of a community. People experience challenges differently and have unique viewpoints about trauma.

  • Nearly 4% of U.S. residents have experienced a trauma event. They may face some level of impact from this trauma like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
  • Someone you know might struggle with PTSD because of a traumatic event like:
    • An accident.
    • An assault.
    • A natural disaster.
  • COVID-19 has created many stress related events that could cause trauma. This pandemic affects physical health—and mental health.
  • We are also confronting the collective impact racism has on our society. The constant and systemic lack of access and opportunity and the overt acts of oppression have a collective traumatic impact on people who are targeted.
  • Traumatic events can damage your ability to cope. They can lead to sadness, grief, pain, panic, confusion, despair, anxiety, or depression.

Take care of yourself

Before you can help others, take care of yourself. You can’t help someone else if you’re not OK:

  • Stay connected with people. Technology is a great resource when you can’t connect in person.
  • Remember the basics. Be sure to get enough sleep, eat well, and exercise.
  • Create a coping toolkit for yourself. Put together a list of activities and objects to help you:
    • Feel grounded.
    • Be safe.
    • Have joy.
    • Increase your quality of life.

How can I help others? suggests 5 steps to help people who struggle:

  1. Encourage them to talk about their reactions, only if they feel ready. Listen respectfully and don’t judge.
  2. Help them identify support like:
    • Loved ones.
    • Friends.
    • Professional resources.
  3. Suggest they think about former successful coping strategies. Remind them to spend time where they feel safe and comfortable. Encourage them to rest and do things to feel good like:
    • Take a bath.
    • Read.
    • Exercise.
    • Watch television.
  4. Respect their need to be alone at times.
  5. Discourage the person from using negative coping strategies like:
    •  Working too hard.
    • Using alcohol and other drugs.
    • Engaging in self-destructive behavior.

Collective healing and resiliency

Resilience is the ability to quickly recovery from difficult experiences. If you have support resources, you can overcome a traumatic experience and grow stronger.

Resources like family, friends and community connections allow you to build resiliency. Your support network shares common values and a strong bond. Individuals and groups who experienced trauma—like the COVID-19 pandemic or like systemic racism—need time and space to heal. And they may want to take actions they feel will make a difference.

When you allow people the opportunity to process events, grieve, or take meaningful action, you help them heal. Your support resources might include:

  1. Family members.
  2. Faith leaders.
  3. Co-workers.
  4. Friends.
  5. Support groups.


Use these resources and tips to help yourself, family, friends and neighbors. Together we can strengthen our communities.

For more information on COVID-19, visit