The mental health toll of cascading collective trauma

November 1, 2022 – A troubling new form of trauma is on the rise. It occurs when people are directly impacted by mass tragedies, such as a mass shooting or a wildfire, either at the same time or in quick succession.

Experts discussed  the phenomenon—known as cascading collective trauma or cumulative collective trauma—in an October 26 article in Cosmopolitan. When such tragedies occur one on top of another it makes it much harder for the people involved to recover, according to the article. They noted that the mental health impact of cumulative collective trauma on young adults is particularly concerning.

Karestan Koenen, professor of psychiatric epidemiology at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said that humans typically have a baseline belief that they can protect themselves from harm. This so-called “illusion of control” enables people to function in the world. But when a life-threatening event shatters that illusion, she said, “the emotional impact can be swift and deeply destabilizing: trauma.”

She added that “it’s hard to study [cumulative collective trauma] scientifically, as each person’s experience is so context-specific and it’s hard to know if what worked in one situation will work in another.”

Read the Cosmopolitan article: Special Report: The Hellish New Trauma of Living Through Multiple Mass Tragedies at Once