Covid, mass trauma and regional unity

A person crying
Photo by Tom Pumford on Unsplash

I remember that in the process of writing my diary entries, I had to recall memories recessed in the back of my mind for over a year. We often don’t think of traumatic memories as ‘trauma’. I briefly addressed the concept of mass trauma at the very end of the diary, so now it’s time to understand what it is and if there is truly an upside to the trauma that we may all be experiencing.

Mass Trauma

Often the first thing that people think of when they hear ‘trauma’ is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, doing a disservice to those struggling with this. Certain people will be at a higher risk of developing PTSD as a result of Covid-19, primarily those directly affected. This includes frontline workers particularly those who became infected.

However, the pandemic has also resulted in what is called mass trauma. Mass trauma is trauma experienced as a result of a mass event that has caused trauma to a large group of people. The World Health Organisation believe that the pandemic has caused mass trauma on a level not experienced since the second World War.

We’ve lost jobs or shifted to remote working. We’ve had to define ourselves by something other than real world relationships. Shared spaces and experiences we once loved (parties, clubs, coffee dates, picnics) are now entangled with the fear of illness. The safe spaces that children had in schools was ripped from them, and the dust never settled even this school year. Every cough or fever that we might get will now bring with it a fear of hospitalisation and death, regardless of how justifiable the fear might be. We have all lived through tangible experiences that we won’t be able to divorce from the pandemic any time soon.

“So, what does mass trauma look like for us Northerners then?”

Mass trauma looks like 60% of LGBTQ youth in our region feeling isolated during the COVID-19 lockdowns. Mass trauma looks like our region having the second highest rate of children in poverty, with 41.2% of children in Newcastle in particular. Mass trauma looks like 100,000 children in our region receiving free school meals due to the economic impact of the pandemic on our region. But mass trauma might result in something precious.

Regional unity

The interesting thing about mass trauma is how it is something that is shared amongst a large group of people at the same time. Everyone across the nation will now be forever connected by an invisible string of heartache and disenfranchisement.

However, not all regions started in the same position, and we’ve got the short end of the stick. Prior to the pandemic, the topic of community cohesion was a frequent topic of debate. The discussion started in 2001 (my birth year) in response to the riots and disturbances that occurred during that year. The concept is concerned with trying to build positive social connections between groups that have ‘othered’ each other on lines including race, class and ethnicity. The North East has been a particular area of focus in this discussion, as key factors that can contribute to a lack of community cohesion include coming from a low-class background, being from a council estate and a lack of trust in local institutions. In 2010, we had more unemployment, more households economically deprived and more children from low-income houses compared to the national average.

Since Covid-19 started, the national picture regarding social cohesion has been mixed. 22% of those from ethnic minority communities are less likely to agree that social company is available. The same percentage of people who lives in deprived areas of the UK were also less likely to agree with the statement. Additional research found that community cohesion peaked during June and July of 2020 when Covid-19 restrictions started to ease and that it briefly reduced divisions between Remainers and Leavers until October 2020, when they became higher than the previous year.

That research also found that unity within local communities strengthened as a result of the pandemic. We can see these stronger regional connections through how community groups and charities lent their support to Covid relief to support struggling families. It’s also telling how news coverage across the UK regarding Clap for Carers/Heroes used terms including unite and unity. The opposite happened nationally. Office of National Statistics (ONS) data found that during April and June 2020, more people expected there to be division nationally post-pandemic.

Who are we?

Over the past year, North East Bylines has highlighted the stories of different individuals across our region. Different in our backgrounds, characteristics, passions and scars. But what is a community at the end of the day? The dictionary simply describes a community as a group of people who live in the same area.

However, I’d argue that community is the connections formed between small groups within the region. I have several communities. I have a community of best friends from secondary school who are united by our evolution and loyalty during the treacherous teenage years. I have a community of best friends at university who stole my heart and gave me a million reasons to be happy.

I have a community of people with whom I have done Bylines Podcasts, who have given me a newfound confidence. And communities can be as intimate as experiences shared between two people. In some ways, I only realised this once I saw friends again. Talked to them, ate with them and remembered what I loved about them in the first place.

So, here is a (maybe controversial) conclusion. Community isn’t regional slang/dialect, it isn’t a sports team. It isn’t a school, neighbourhood or university. It’s the people that we meet, the relationships that we share and the experiences that we share together. And that’s been enough to get us through these difficult times.

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