APsaA Outlines Pandemic Trauma and Stress Experience (PTSE)

Pandemic Trauma and Stress Experience


New York, NY – March 2, 2021 - Based on clinical observations and research on natural disasters, the American Psychoanalytic Association (APsaA) has outlined the psychological impact of the pandemic on individuals, families, and communities. This group of mental healthcare providers have started referring to this shared global response as Pandemic Trauma and Stress Experience (https://apsa.org/PTSE) or PTSE, a set of expected interpersonal and community-wide responses to the pandemic.

According to APsaA, PTSE can be caused by having to adapt to a prolonged “pandemic way of life”, filled with uncertainty, fear, and loss. We see that grief over what’s been lost, concerns about how to navigate pandemic life, and relentless worry about the future can increase our experiences of depression, anxiety, sadness, loneliness, relational conflicts, substance abuse or misuse, and even violence.

“All of us are experiencing some level of PTSE,” said Todd Essig, co-chair of APsaA’s COVID-19 Advisory Task force. “However, our responses can range from subtle to serious and are different for different people. In fact, while features often reflect the harmful consequences of accumulating stress and trauma, some individuals and communities respond with resilience, altruism, creativity, and by building stronger relationships and neighborhoods in the face of such an experience.”

By outlining the various responses to COVID-19, APsaA hopes to distinguish PTSE from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a diagnosable mental disorder for which PTSE is frequently confused.

What PTSE Looks Like:

For individuals:

  • Fear of catching COVID and getting sick
  • Fear of giving COVID to others
  • Worry about scheduling or finding a way to get the vaccine
  • Worry the vaccine will cause COVID, won’t work, or won’t last
  • Fear for the future, weariness for the present, and grief for a lost past
  • Increased frustration and despair
  • Increased withdrawal, isolation, and fear of others as a source of infection
  • A grinding weariness and decreased attention to personal and public safety
  • Loss of focus, both on specific tasks as well as general goals
  • Increased mental mistakes, a kind of fuzzy thinking
  • Hypervigilance to potential loss, injury, and illness
  • Realistic worries about finances
  • Disruptions of normal patterns of behavior
  • Closer family ties and reliance on friends
  • Increased altruism, including worry about others

For individuals with a positive test

  • Fear of dying alone
  • Fear of infecting loved ones
  • Fear of or adaptation to mental or physical long-term effects
  • Loss of income
  • Fear of being isolated and ostracized
  • Enhanced responsibility to protect others by not transmitting COVID-19

For communities

  • Increased fear, xenophobia, violence
  • Worry the vaccine won’t be distributed fairly across racial, gender, ethnic groups
  • Decreased community cohesion for some communities
  • Loss of financial and human resources
  • Overburdened infrastructure
  • Cultural disruptions
  • Increased volunteerism and community cohesion
  • Expanded entrepreneurial and creative activities
  • Growth in political and social engagement  

“It is important to understand that PTSE is not a diagnosis or disorder. It is a shared community phenomenon centered on adapting together,” said Jeff Taxman, member of APsaA and the COVID-19 Advisory Task Force. “However, if you are overwhelmed by loneliness, worry, or sadness you should ask for help when needed and accept help when it is offered.”

For more information about PTSE and how to cope with the ongoing pandemic, visit www.apsa.org/coronavirus. APsaA has developed several resources for the public, parents, and mental healthcare providers.

About the American Psychoanalytic Association:

APsaA is the oldest and largest professional organization for psychoanalysts in North America, representing 3,000 members, 33 approved training institutes, and 39 affiliate societies throughout the United States. APsaA members include psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, psychotherapists, and educators. For more than 100 years, the association has issued position statements on vital social issues. Visit apsa.org/position-statements.


Media Contact:

Claire Meyerhoff
Interim Communications Director