Research Reveals COVID-19 Traumatic Stress May Predict PTSD

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Research Reveals COVID-19 Traumatic Stress May Predict PTSD

 Jim Windell

        No question that the COVID -19 pandemic has been stressful for most – if not all – of us. But could it be considered a unique trauma?

            A new study strongly suggests that, indeed, the pandemic could be viewed as a unique trauma – one that could predict PTSD for some people.

           In the study that comes from the Georgia State University, researchers surveyed 745 individuals to examine the potential interaction of race/ethnicity, COVID‐19 traumatic stress and cumulative trauma in the prediction of PTSD symptoms. These researchers used a recently validated COVID‐19 Traumatic Stress Scale to measure the pandemic’s impact as related to the threat or fear of infection and death.

           Results, published in the Journal of Community Psychology, found a positive and significant association between COVID traumatic stress and PTSD symptoms. This, the authors of the study contend, suggest that the pandemic is a unique traumatic stressor. Among all racial groups except Asian Americans, it was revealed that there was an association between increased PTSD symptoms and high levels of cumulative trauma.

           Jeff Ashby, the study’s lead author, professor of counseling and psychological services in the College of Education & Human Development and co-director of the Center for Stress, Trauma and Resilience, said that “While many people are insulated from deaths and economic hardships related to the pandemic, there is a universal experience of fear, concern for others and social isolation. Among our findings is that the experience of COVID-19 is a traumatic stress. It isn’t just triggering earlier trauma, it’s a traumatic experience in and of itself.”

           Ashby went on to say that they found a three-way interaction between COVID traumatic stress, cumulative trauma and race in predicting PTSD. “That means there is a relationship between cumulative trauma and PTSD,” Ashby said , “and there is a relationship between COVID traumatic stress and PTSD. And except for Asian Americans, those of us who have more cumulative trauma are more likely to experience COVID-19 as a traumatic stressor.”

           Why were the effects for Asian Americans conspicuously different?

           The researchers note there could be several contributing factors. For one, research has consistently found that Asian Americans are less likely to report psychological distress than other identified groups, which may have affected the survey results. It’s also important to consider the findings against the backdrop of increased discrimination and violence against Asian Americans during the pandemic. Asian Americans who have a greater history of previous trauma may be more affected by being scapegoated as the source of COVID‐19 in the U.S., and as a result, COVID‐19 specific trauma (for example, a personal fear of infection) may have a comparatively diminished effect on PTSD symptoms.

           Ashby added that “The results emphasize the importance of examining subgroups in the community for potential exacerbating — or buffering — effects of COVID stress on mental health outcomes.”

           What do the results mean for psychologists?

           Since the study suggests that COVID‐19 may be considered a unique trauma, perhaps psychologists should advocate for trauma‐informed care in communities and schools. Also, because the pandemic has a greater impact on marginalized groups, trauma‐informed care could help minimize disparities in mental health outcomes related to the experiences of the pandemic.

           In addition, psychologists tend to be in a position to engage in efforts to explicitly address anti‐Asian sentiment. By doing so, discrimination and the prevention of poorer mental health outcomes for Asians and Asian Americans could be decreased.

           To read the original article find it with this reference:

Ashby, J. S., Rice, K. G., Kira, I. A., & Davari, J. (2021). The relationship of COVID-19 traumatic stress, cumulative trauma, and race to posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms. Journal of community psychology, 10.1002/jcop.22762. Advance online publication.





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