How to heal the ‘mass trauma’ of Covid-19

Lessons learned help to bolster disaster resilience

March 11 marks the 10th anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake, which precipitated an unprecedented catastrophe. The 9.0 magnitude earthquake, the strongest ever recorded in Japan, was also the fourth-strongest worldwide since 1900. With its focus spanning a wide swath below the seabed, it triggered massive tsunamis that wreaked untold damage and devastation across a vast area, especially along Japan’s Pacific coast. The number of victims — those who died directly or indirectly as a consequence of the earthquake in addition to missing persons — exceeded 20,000, and approximately 400,000 houses were damaged or destroyed.

To transform the experience of this catastrophe into lessons for the future, Japan, which has historically been prone to large natural disasters, has scrutinized the issues that emerged as the disaster was transpiring and in its aftermath. 


In response, 163 countries and regions, 43 international organizations and innumerable private organizations offered Japan a helping hand. Rescue teams from around the world performed lifesaving and first-aid activities in the wake of the quake. As we commemorate the 10th anniversary of the disaster, I, on behalf of the Japanese people, would like to express once again our sincere appreciation to all the people, countries, regions, international organizations, nongovernmental organizations and others that supported us….

How to heal the ‘mass trauma’ of Covid-19

Almost half of intensive care staff in England reported symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, severe depression or anxiety during the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic, a new study has shown. 

You are living amid the first global mass trauma event for several decades. It’s arguably the first of its kind since World War Two, and likely the first of such severity in your lifetime.

At the time of writing, more than two million lives have been lost, and the number continues to rise by tens of thousands every day. The global economy, complex webs of international relations, individual mental health, the pitter-patter of everyday life: nothing has been spared in the viral storm.

When thinking about Covid-19, though, “trauma”, let alone “mass trauma”, may not be the first thing that springs to mind. Other frames of reference – economic, political, ecological, scientific – may seem more fitting. And even within a mental health lens, “trauma” has hardly been the go-to in media discussions, which focus more on other problems like depression, anxiety, loneliness, and stress.         

Trauma is a far subtler concept than many of us realise. It isn’t just a word for something extremely stressful. It doesn’t always come from short, sharp shocks like car accidents, terrorist attacks, or firefights. And, trauma isn’t the same thing as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). What trauma is about is events and their effect on the mind. But what separates it from something merely stressful is how we relate to these events on a deep level of belief.

After the pandemic ends, the effects of the mass trauma it has inflicted will linger across societies for years. How might we understand this mental fallout? And what does the science of trauma suggest that we should – and shouldn’t – do in order to heal….

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