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A national wave of trauma and grief
Perth psychiatrist and complicated grief specialist, Dr Monique O'Connor, has suggested that we, as a nation, are experiencing a tsunami of grief.1
Stress, loneliness, and other complex traumas
For the past several years, we have been subject to lockdowns, job losses, family separation, Covid deaths, fear-mongering, vaccine injury, segregation, loss of fundamental rights, learning loss and developmental harms (for kids), and other traumas. That most of these have been unnecessarily inflicted adds a second layer to the trauma.2
Record excess deaths
19,986 excess deaths have been recorded for the period Jan - Sept 2022, which is 16% above average.3 Of these, 8,160 (41%) are Covid-related deaths. The remaining 11, 826 (59%) excess deaths are likely due to: delays in emergency care; delays in routine care; increased use of drugs and alcohol; post-vaccination sequelae; post-Covid sequelae; post-interactions with other causes of death; and delayed deaths from other causes.4 Note that the first four are knock-on effects of pandemic policies.
Speaking at the Stop Medical Censorship Symposium in Perth late last year, Dr O’Connor explained that acute grief generally becomes integrated over time. However, if the grief process is interrupted, people become stuck in prolonged grief. Risk factors for prolonged grief disorder include substance abuse, suicide, adverse health outcomes, and presentation of comorbid disorders. At scale, this makes for a sick and sad society.
The grief healing process requires activation of several systems (attachment, caregiver, memory), mediated by interpersonal connection. These systems were significantly interrupted by pandemic measures. For example, manipulative guilt-trip messaging5 and restrictions preventing loved ones from taking part in bereavement rituals were obstructions to grief integration.
Quarantine rules were another cruelty to those suffering from acute grief, said Dr O’Connor.
“People had difficult bereavements and they had to go overseas and then come back and be stuck in quarantine, having acute grief, which is devastating. That was experienced as absolute torture, and I can’t understand how it was allowed to happen.”
Children are especially susceptible to the trauma of loss of a caregiver, with the effects carrying well into adulthood if the grief cannot be properly integrated.6
Dr O’Connor draws a parallel between Australia’s excess death toll and that of the 9/11 attacks, which took the lives of 2,977 victims. Australia’s excess deaths Jan - Sept 2022 amount to almost seven fold the number lost at 9/11. In addition to the deaths on 9/11, thousands were also injured. It is unknown how many people have been injured physically or psychologically from the lockdowns and other measures, from Long Covid, or from vaccine injury.
The national outpouring of grief following the 9/11 attacks involved public mourning, fortification of support services (including financial help and mental health) and collective sense-making through ritual, art, music and literature. Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is one artefact that comes to mind.7
For us, here and now, our public sense-making has in many ways been truncated or suppressed. Much of the trauma of the past several years has been That Which May Not Be Spoken - the impacts of coercive vaccination policies, loss of civic rights, loss of the nation as we knew it, vaccine injury, or unexplained deaths that no one wants to find an answer for. There is also a bifurcation of shared realities. Some are traumatised by what they believe to be one of the most terrifying pandemics of our time. Others are traumatised by what they believe to be one of the greatest cons of our time. Thus our sense-making efforts have balkanised, making it difficult to collectively process the trauma and grief of the pandemic years.
Tsunamis reshape the landscape
National-scale tragedies have far-reaching impacts. In a study of the mental health impacts of the 9/11 tragedy8, it was found that approximately 1/4 of the sample group (primary care patients in upper Manhattan) knew someone who was killed in the attacks. This is not a small number when you consider that those who knew someone who was killed were twice as likely to exhibit mental disorders, and were at increased risk of extreme pain interference, work loss, and functional impairment.
Similarly, a recent survey9 of the US public found that just over 1/4 of respondents believed that they know someone who died due to Covid vaccine injury. We do not yet know the full extent of mental health impacts of pandemic-related tragedy on the population, but we can guess at its significance.
Dr O’Connor’s parallel provides an important framework for comprehending the scale and of the collective trauma and grief sweeping our nation.
The five stages of grief, according to the model set out by David Kessler and Elizabeth Kübler Ross, are10,
“Acceptance is often confused with the notion of being “all right” or “OK” with what has happened. This is not the case….
We will never like this reality or make it OK, but eventually we accept it. We learn to live with it…It has been forever changed and we must readjust. We must learn to reorganize roles, re-assign them to others or take them on ourselves…
We can never replace what has been lost, but we can make new connections, new meaningful relationships, new inter-dependencies. Instead of denying our feelings, we listen to our needs; we move, we change, we grow, we evolve.”
Let us accept that this is what has happened, and call it what it is, so that we may heal. I want to clarify that acceptance is not the same thing as rolling over and giving up. In my understanding of the model, it is a condition which facilitates clear thinking, pragmatic adaptation, and, where necessary, strong action.
Later, Kessler and Kübler-Ross added a sixth stage to the grieving process, ‘Finding Meaning.’ This involves making sense of what happened and integrating it into a new framework of intention and action.
Following is my attempt to make sense of what happened last year. This writing, and this Substack, are part of my new framework of action.11 There will be plenty more to say on that this year.
2022 ~ Trauma
2022 completely destroyed my faith in humanity. As the Fault Lines report and several others found towards the end of the year, it was not the pandemic that wrecked Australia in the last few years - it was the reckless, ineffective, harmful, ethically bankrupt, and economically insane policies of our governments, who wrested almost absolute control from the supposedly democratic and free populace.
The enthusiasm of the population in support of the government as they set about decimating the ethical, social and economic structures that form the bedrock of our society utterly dismayed me.
The media’s total dereliction of their Fourth Estate duty to the public, as they parroted government press release after big pharma memorandum, uncritically and in unison, signaled Fascism, and everyone bobbed their heads in approval, as though this was good.
Social segregation based on lies and incompetence were, again, cheered on by people who swallowed whole what the television told them, people whose moral compasses were so confused by the disorienting emotion of fear that they could not see unethical discrimination for what it was.
Just as the segregation began to relax, my darling little cat was murdered. This incident reified as Truth the foreboding feeling that there are very bad people in the world who do very bad things, and that when these people gain power (money, influence), they get away with the bad things. Because actually, our legal system is not a justice system. It is just a system of rules that powerful people use to keep little people under the boot.
In August, I finally got out of the country and my body relaxed for the first time that year. The chaos in the new place was soothing, and the open and frank discussions had with expats and locals were a breath of fresh air compared to dodging eggshells strewn about social gatherings in Australia. I started to feel like myself again. I was there 12 days, and towards the end I felt happy on a couple of occasions, for the first time since 2021.
In the final stretch of 2022, I jostled with bouts of depression, anger, despair, and hope. During the year, I made new friendships with people who are willing to talk about hard things. I retained friendships with people who were willing to let me be where I was at, and vice versa. Those relationships have meant the world to me.
Entering into 2023, I feel better equipped to deal with life on life’s terms. The reason I was traumatised by the events in 2022 is that I didn’t see and fully accept the darkness in people, and in the world. I accept it now, and from this orientation, based in reality, I’m not as shocked and rocked by it, and can better respond. This year I hope to respond in truth, integrity, compassion and pragmatism.
2023 ~ Hope
I invite you to leave your reflections in the comments. I will leave you with a comment from a reader who has asked to remain anonymous.
”The isolation and measures in place to keep me out of society was meant to break me, it was meant to wear me down to nothing and the truth is, it almost did. However, I fought back, internally. I decided that it didn’t matter what others thought, it didn’t matter what names I was called and it didn’t matter that I lost an income. I grew my strength, I was proud of my stance and I do not for a moment regret standing up for others. I took charge of my situation, with help along the way and decided who I wanted to be. I wanted to be kind, caring and compassionate over being bitter. I wanted my family to be proud of who I am and to draw on my strength. So I decided I would move states, leaving my loved ones but setting out of a new journey, with a full tank and with excitement over what could be. I am 6 months into my healing and whilst I have my days/weeks, I am being the man I set out to be.”
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The Hard Lessons Report (Institute of Public Affairs) found that, not only were lockdowns had a net-negative impact in terms of life years saved (or lost), economic effects, and mental health and social effects. Summary of findings below.
NSW Gov engaged a Behavioural Insights (nudge) Unit to manipulate the public into compliant behaviours.
This NYU Applied Psychology summary of national-level trauma in children uses the narrative framework of the novel Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close to elucidate the issues.
Set in the US in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the novel explores themes of national trauma and guilt through the eyes of the child protagonist, nine-year-old Oskar Schell. Oskar’s father died in the 9/11 attack. The suddenness of the event, and the lack of closure (he did not get to say goodbye or witness the body) create in Oskar an obsession with knowing the details of his father’s death. He also develops a heightened stress/fear response to triggers related to the 9/11 attack (suspension bridges, fireworks, smoke). Oscar also feels intense guilt for not having received his father’s final phone calls from within the tower - the poor kid was so paralysed with fear that he couldn’t pick up the phone (possibly to avoid confronting his greatest fear - loss of his dad)
Oscar’s grandfather, Thomas Schell, is also traumatised. He lived through the Dresden bombings, in which he lost both his lover and their unborn baby. He gradually stops talking and communicates mainly through gestures, writing notes, and the words YES and NO tattooed on his palms.
In Oskar’s case, he struggled to complete the experience of his father’s death without the the details of exactly what happened, and how. For Thomas, words failed to express the trauma he had experienced, and so he too became stuck. Unable to adequately express what he had lived through, he was therefore unable to complete the experience.
Why I write: