4 MIN READ | Mental Health

The Psychological Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic: The Individual, Family, and the Wider System

Zohreh Rahimi

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Zohreh Rahimi, (2020, June 13). The Psychological Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic: The Individual, Family, and the Wider System. Psychreg on Mental Health. https://www.psychreg.org/psychological-impact-covid-19/
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It may feel that it was some time ago when life was much easier, manageable, and more enjoyable than it is right now. That was when you could go out freely without covering your mouth, go to work, socialise with as many family and friends that you would have liked to and be free to shop wherever you wished. There was a time when children were going to school everyday and you could go shopping as many times as you liked to do your shopping without fear, you could go to restaurants and pubs, eating, drinking out for as long as you wished, you could go to the local park and spend as much time as you wanted to, to enjoy the weather, you could go on holiday abroad, go to concerts, theatres, football matches, etc.  You could just be free to do and behave as you wanted without being prosecuted by the police.  This was then.

Life is very different now; you are not free to choose what to do, choices are very limited and even not there. Outside looks very different: people with masks, gloves, asking you to move away from them if you are closer than two meters away; children cannot go school any longer and if they go they have to behave differently which maybe very difficult for a child to comprehend and even damage them psychologically for life.

After all this new behaviour is very different from what we were teaching our kids and we were expecting them to comply to before. Will children get detention at school if they don’t abide by the two-metre rule, will they be punished if they try to comfort a classmate who maybe distressed and crying for any reason?

All these changes have happened just in a very short period of time. It was just a few months ago when children were going to school every day, people were planning and booking their summer holidays, weddings, birthdays, big parties, and many other major plans for a lovely, beautiful, warm summer to relax and re-charge after working hard for many months and looking forward to a relaxing, enjoyable summer break.  All is gone, all plans have disappeared unexpectedly, even the normal, usual aspect of life has changed dramatically and even disappeared. This is now, this is what everyone all around the world has to deal with and manage right now. A major universal traumatic experience by all who are trying to understand, come to terms to, work through, and if possible, with all the uncertainties still around, to move on to a brighter and more manageable, and happier future.

The psychological impact of all the above on individuals, families and the wider system can be unimaginable and the timeline of the fast moving events difficult to comprehend. Each individual has a unique experience of what has and is happening, everyone has a different way of dealing, coping, and managing the situation. Each individual, each family, each community, each society, and each nation and country has their own specific way of dealing, managing, and moving forward as a result of this natural disastrous traumatic event, COVID-19.

Looking back at stages of what has happened retrospectively, the dilemmas that all systems and subsystems faced, and the psychological impact of this unprecedented event on everyone has been discussed previously

Now we have moved on to the next stage of how the traumatic experience of the COVID-19 is impacting individuals, families, communities, societies, and the wider systems.  These are all evident in every system and subsystem’s behaviour right now all around the world.It seems that solidarity and being united against the same enemy, COVID-19, is disappearing and all the differences from the past are emerging even stronger. Inequalities, injustices, suffering, and overall experiences of this traumatic event are becoming much more apparent.

I have heard from many patients telling me: ‘I can’t take it anymore, this is too much,’  these words are very important in the world of therapy, you need to take them seriously and try to explore, understand, empathise, bare the unbearable, witness the pain and suffering and support the sufferer to come to terms with, work through the trauma and move forward. It is much harder when you share the same or very similar experience which is the case at present.

How in a professional capacity one can stay objective and avoid subjectivity?  How can the experience of the ongoing impact of COVID-19 be explored objectively, understood, and lessons learnt from it to comprehend and find a solution, act, and build up a much more fulfilling future with a greater understanding for all.  

It is crucial for therapists to engage with and connect to patients at this point of time in order to ensure the liberty to explore the differences, the impact of the past, present and the anxieties about an uncertain future. Objectivity is paramount and a position of neutrality, curiosity, and hypothesis the best possible guess is crucial.  

Making assumptions and acting on them are the most dangerous at present. After all it is a therapist strength to be aware of and admit that they don’t know, they need to learn from their patients to understand, empathise and support them. The worst is when one pretends that they understand and make assumptions on false understanding of what needs to be done when right now the emotions are at the highest level, and feelings are so raw and subjectivity can easily take over the world of therapy.

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Image credit: Freepik


Zohreh Rahimi is a clinical psychologist, family and systemic psychotherapist, and a clinical manager working at Freedom form Torture.

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