“A collective trauma:” How reopenings are impacting mental health

Jul 12, 2021

Recent reopenings across California have left some people feeling relieved. But, others are experiencing a very different response.

Transitions-Mental Health Association (TMHA) is a local nonprofit that provides services to promote recovery and wellness for people with mental illness.

Michael Kaplan is the community engagement director at TMHA. He said people can be affected differently by the reopenings.

“I think that as a community we have been through a collective trauma with this pandemic and we still don't know all of the impacts of that. I think there will be forms of PTSD that people are going to be experiencing down the line,” Kaplan said. “Right now, while there is a lot of excitement and a lot of relief, it's mixed with uncertainty. I think that we’re not completely out of the woods. I try to stay very optimistic but also I can't dismiss the severity of what we’ve all gone through.”

A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found symptoms of anxiety and depression increased during the pandemic.

Kaplan said towards the beginning of this year, there was an increase in calls that were being made to the Central Coast Hotline.

“Our agency has just never received more requests from people who we don’t normally serve – asking for resources, asking for references,” Kaplan said. “We definitely feel like we’ve been in the middle of this while everybody is just trying to get themselves grounded.”

People reporting symptoms of mental illness during the pandemic are fairly common in the United states. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that nearly one in five U.S. adults live with mental illnesses.

Pam Zweifel, the president of SLO County’s National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), said you can’t tell who is and who isn’t vaccinated — and with some people wearing masks and others not, she said this can create some uncertainty.

“I think that uncertainty will continue to affect all of us going forward for a while. I mean I feel like we’re all crawling out from under one big rock,” Zweifel said. “And that's got to be a good thing. We all have to be reconnected to the community, that's what keeps us all strong and healthy.”

Similar to Kaplan, Zweifel said the closures during the pandemic was a positive time for some people to stop and reflect, but she said there could be long term negative effects.

“I believe all of us, all of us will suffer PTSD as a result of it. Whether we realize it now or not. We are all going to be carrying the burden of 2020 for the rest of our lives,” Zweifel said.

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental illness, there are some local and national resources linked below.

Central Coast Hotline (800) 783-0607

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800) 273-8255

NAMI San Luis Obispo County

San Luis Obispo County Behavioral Health

Transitions-Mental Health Association