Mental Health Aftermath: Post-Pandemic Stress?
A new term being thrown around these days in the mental health world is “post-pandemic stress
disorder (PPSD).” It’s brand new and it’s not yet official, but you may have guessed it has to do
with stress after the Covid pandemic.
Covid has been tough for our mental health
Psychiatrists and therapists already know public mental health has taken a large hit during
Covid. In the US 1 out of 5 people had a mental illness before the outbreak in 2020. That
number jumped to 2 out of 5 throughout the year. This poses a cause for concern because
what happens to those cases when the pandemic is officially “over?”
It will likely be a gradual and sometimes confusing transition back while anxiety, stress, and
even depression may linger or even get worse. Even if the virus magically disappeared, we
would still have economic and social matters still unsettled - and that may unsettle us.
What we are left with is the mental health aftermath of a pandemic. Trauma from the upending
of daily life affects many people in ways they may not even realize, and once the dust has
settled there still may be some troubling issues.
Symptoms and Causes
For the unofficial disorder coined PPSD, symptoms include sleep disturbances, OCD-type fears
and compulsive washing, dwelling, feelings of peril, mood swings, and related problems.
Doctors and therapists have reported a steady increase in patients reaching out for distress due
to the pandemic.
Causes may include any number of things that have occurred as a result of recent events: fear
of the virus, stress or depression caused by isolation, economic worries, and so on.
However, it might be useful to note that the term PPSD is not confirmed as an official medical
diagnosis and it might not be. Some have argued that labelling mental health issues so severely
would prevent people from reaching out. Also, the specific mental health disturbances for each
person could very possibly be unique to their specific issues.
Don’t stay in the cave
Some may also develop an attachment to staying home. This may result from adapting to a
fear of the virus over the past year and developing a normalcy with it. Even after receiving a
vaccine, a Stockholm syndrome-like dependency on anxiety and isolating may remain and keep
people from re-entering society. This phenomenon has recently been termed “Cave syndrome.”
What have we learned about mental health this past year?
Uncertainty from the virus is now short-term but it may not be the end for our mental health
pandemic. Forthcoming vaccines and the current global climate may give way not to relief, but
to a new uncertainty: what about a future pandemic? What if our political and healthcare
systems have been compromised by the crisis? Who knows what comes next?
One important lesson seems to be that people still need to become more familiar with the
mental health system. As doctors respond to new cases, it becomes devastatingly clear that not
enough people are getting help either because of stigma, lack of information, or lack of access.
Our community would benefit by more mental health education and dialogue.
It is important to remember that no one ever knows what will happen in the future. We as
humans are experts at adapting to new unforeseen circumstances, of which there will always be
Is there hope?
Resiliency has been a hot topic in the media, and for good reason. We are going to need a lot of
it moving forward from this pandemic. Resiliency essentially means bouncing back with a
positive attitude. Hope lies in this.
By staying positive, being compassionate, grateful, and reaching out when we need support, we
can come back stronger than ever in the face of a challenging return to a normal we’ve never
To guess how the mental health landscape will play out in the long run is ultimately a challenge,
but in this case it’s a challenge worth confronting. The thing that could stand in the way of our
resilience is a failure to address and analyze the psychological impact of the last year.