June 17, 2020

Addressing societal trauma in uncertain times

Kaiser Permanente convenes a panel of experts to discuss the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our mental and social health.

Panelists discuss mental, physical, and social health at the Commonwealth Club event “Destination Health: Addressing Societal Trauma.”

May was Mental Health Awareness month and it couldn’t have been timelier to emphasize the importance of mental health and resilience as we navigate feelings of stress, fear, and uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the demonstrations over systemic racism and social injustice unfolding across the country.  

As part of an ongoing commitment to raise awareness, remove stigma, and provide care and resources to our members and our communities, Kaiser Permanente convened a virtual panel discussion, “Destination Health: Addressing Societal Trauma,” to talk about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on mental health and wellness. The event, in partnership with the Commonwealth Club of California, brought together a trauma expert who is also the California surgeon general, an activist and advocate for restaurant workers’ rights, and a front-line physician who contracted the illness early in the pandemic. Together, they addressed important questions, such as “What steps can we take to mitigate the impacts of social isolation, including depression, suicidal ideation, and substance abuse?”

In his opening remarks, Greg A. Adams, chairman and CEO of Kaiser Permanente, acknowledged we are living in a time of disruption. Fear of contracting the virus, delaying care for other conditions, social isolation, and economic insecurity all translate into increased trauma for people across the globe.

Panelists discussed the impact of traumatic events on our physical and mental health. “This pandemic presents a significant hardship for many, many people,” said Nadine Burke Harris, MD, California surgeon general and trauma expert. “And for a lot of us, it does rise to the level of trauma.”

And that trauma could have long-lasting negative effects, especially for children. Kaiser Permanente’s landmark 1988 Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACEs, study conducted with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that negative experiences in childhood strongly correlate with poor physical and mental health later in life.

The panelists shared coping mechanisms to combat stress in this uncertain time. “Wellness looks very different for everyone,” explained emergency department physician and COVID-19 survivor Rosny Daniel, MD. “I've tried to continue to do a lot of things … exercise, try to eat some healthy food, talking a lot more on the phone to family and friends, and trying to be open and honest about how I'm feeling.”

Dr. Burke Harris said evidence-based self-care strategies are critical in this time. “Important things like nutrition, mindfulness, and meditation actually help to regulate the stress response,” she explained.

Each of the panelists agreed the pandemic has magnified structural inequities embedded in our society — and it will take all of us to find answers to these persistent issues.

One Fair Wage co-founder and president Saru Jayaraman believes the crisis presents an opportunity. “I see 2 pathways for us. Either we can go in a much worse direction because the pandemic has created a lot of serious trauma as we've all talked about. Or we can use this crisis and moment of opportunity to act collectively and demand something totally different and much better than what we've had all along.”

Mental Health Awareness Month highlights

The Commonwealth Club event was just one of several efforts in May 2020 to shine a light on mental health and resilience. Kaiser Permanente members now have access to myStrength, a digital behavioral health solution, and Calm, the number one app for meditation and sleep, at no extra cost. (The Calm app is not available to Kaiser Permanente Washington members at this time.)

Kaiser Permanente also announced Presence of Mind, a ground-breaking partnership with Cloud9, a professional esports organization. The goal of the initiative is to increase mental health awareness, reduce stigma, and encourage teens and young adults to prioritize their well-being.

In these uncertain times, it’s important to stay mentally healthy, strong, and resilient. Learn more about the work Kaiser Permanente is doing to improve mental health and wellness for everyone.