Coronavirus Chronicles

Some of Us Are in a Disaster Cascade

Mental health has improved for a fortunate few. But many people in Washington are heading back toward disillusionment.

By Malia Alexander October 15, 2021

We were supposed to be feeling better by now. The disillusionment phase of the coronavirus pandemic would last a few months into 2021. With some setbacks, we’d be on the road to recovery, constructing a new life while trying to get back to the old one. A hot vaxxed July and August even seemed possible. “What we saw this summer was people on a solid yellow line pathway, feeling great,” says Dr. Kira Mauseth, co-lead of the Washington State Department of Health’s Strike Team and a senior instructor of psychology at Seattle University. “And then Delta hit.”

Since the variant’s arrival in Washington months ago, a striking divergence has formed: Some people have continued to be in better spirits, Mauseth says. But others—most, she’s gathered—have experienced more mental health challenges, such as anxiety and depression, associated with earlier stages of the crisis.

A recent update by the Strike Team notes that the pressure to reconnect with friends while the most contagious form of the virus spreads has contributed to some of this internal struggle. Parents have also worried about uncertainty surrounding their children’s schooling as kids await vaccination approvals. And then there are the secondary effects of the pandemic—job losses, housing insecurity—that have drastically affected mental health and people’s ability to emotionally recover, sometimes quite literally, from Covid. There’s a word for all of these life-altering things happening at once. “The Delta variant and the fifth wave that we are experiencing has caused a disaster cascade for most people,” says Mauseth.

While those with more social, educational, and economic opportunities have started to reconstruct their lives, others dealing with primary (actual illness) and secondary effects of the pandemic have been sucked back down toward disillusionment, another period of processing that recovery isn’t imminent. This can lead to the emergence of more behavioral health problems, including alcohol and drug use. “The disaster cascade restarted this entire impact cycle,” says Mauseth.

Just like before, a mix of patience and adaptation will be vital. The Strike Team co-leader says she believes in our resilience. But what does that mean now, nearly two years into the pandemic? “Resilience will still be standing, regardless of how long this takes.” 

Vaccine access for children will provide a major lift, Mauseth notes. By spring, when sunlight increases, she predicts many people will start feeling better again. The will is certainly there. “People want to be done with this.”

In the meantime, as some push through this disaster cascade and others continue on down that solid yellow line, hope will guide them. Mauseth’s sure of it. “The capacity that human beings have to move forward as time goes on is phenomenal,” she says. “As time goes on, the perspective will shift and will change for people about what this entire experience has meant.”

Show Comments