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Finding the Bright Side: COVID Lockdowns and Post-Traumatic Personal Growth

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Key Takeaways

  • Some people have found mental health benefits from the COVID-19 crisis, according to a survey carried out during the first wave of the pandemic.
  • More than 88% of respondents identified positives arising from the pandemic.
  • These were most commonly related to the "post-traumatic growth," such as improved relationships, a greater appreciation of life, and positive spiritual change.

The COVID-19 crisis has been devastating for millions of people around the world, and its impact goes far beyond the physical effects of the disease. Studies have found even that people without clinical depression, anxiety, or other mood disorders experienced poor mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic.

But recent research from Bath University in England suggests that the pandemic can have positive effects on mental health, and even lead to post-traumatic growth. 

GinaMarie Guarino, LMHC

Post-traumatic growth comes from overcoming challenges that you may experience in reaction to trauma and learning from the recovery process.

— GinaMarie Guarino, LMHC

What the Study Found


The researchers analyzed a cross-sectional online survey of 385 volunteers, who were all carers of children age 6-16 living in Portugal and the U.K. The survey was carried out at the peak of the first wave of COVID-19 during lockdown, between May 1 and June 27 2020.

The majority (74%) of respondents were working exclusively from home, and almost half reported a reduction in income. Most of their children (93%) were home taught, and 19.5% of them reported having a family member with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 infection.

GinaMarie Guarnio, LMHC

The removal of distractions helped many people reconnect with family and focus on their life goals and career aspirations.

— GinaMarie Guarnio, LMHC

Despite the obvious pressures on these caregivers, 88.6% of them identified positives arising from the pandemic. According to the researchers, these were most commonly related to the “post-traumatic growth domains” of improved relationships, a greater appreciation of life, discovering and embracing new possibilities, and positive spiritual change. Plus, those who could identify positives reported better mental health.

The findings came as a surprise, says Paul Stallard, professor of child and adolescent mental health at Bath University. “We didn’t expect 88% of people to identify positives. The fact that those who could identify positives had better mental health suggests that focusing on that you have and appreciating the small things we often take for granted can be helpful.”

What Is Post-Traumatic Growth? 


This concept has been around for some time but awareness of it has grown since the beginning of the pandemic, says licensed mental health counselor GinaMarie Guarino, LMHC.

“Trauma has a lasting impact on a person, but it is a misconception that you cannot recover from or grow from trauma,” she explains. “Post-traumatic growth comes from overcoming challenges that you may experience in reaction to trauma and learning from the recovery process.”

Paul Stallard

The fact that those who could identify positives had better mental health suggests that focusing on that you have and appreciating the small things we often take for granted can be helpful.

— Paul Stallard

It’s undeniable that the pandemic has caused many challenges for people, but this study shows that there can be benefits, too. “The removal of distractions helped many people reconnect with family and focus on their life goals and career aspirations,” Guarino says. For a lot of people, it has also presented the challenge of having to cope with mental health and wellness more independently. “This has strengthened and solidified coping skills for mental health,” Guarino adds.

Additionally, some people have grown more comfortable with downtime and have found methods of mentally challenging themselves to keep their brain active while also preventing boredom.

All Challenges in Life Are Relative


Everyone will experience the pandemic differently, depending on their unique circumstances, and it’s completely normal for someone to struggle at times and flourish at others.

“Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses, challenges, and blessings,” Guarino says. “To compare your unique circumstances to that of others only works to your detriment, because it pulls away from the positive and hopeful perspective we all need to recover from the pandemic.”

Paul Stallard

It’s important to share the findings to provide a more balanced story about COVID-19. There are lots of news stories about the negative effects on mental health but people are also identifying some benefits out of this difficult situation.

— Paul Stallard

Survivor’s guilt is a real thing experienced by many, but Guarino stresses that it’s important that the intention of all of the shutdowns and efforts to prevent the spread of the virus were to keep the majority safe. “If you have not faced trials that others around you have, it does not discredit the work that you have put in to stay healthy and responsible in these extraordinary circumstances,” she says.

While Stallard admits that his survey has its limitations—the small size and the voluntary online nature, for starters—he believes further research exploring post-traumatic growth following pandemics is warranted.

“It’s important to share the findings to provide a more balanced story about COVID-19,” he says. “There are lots of news stories about the negative effects on mental health but people are also identifying some benefits out of this difficult situation.” 

What This Means For You

Everyone responds to challenges in their own way. If you think your mental health and well-being has benefited in some way from the COVID-19 pandemic, focus on those positives—they'll help you get through these difficult times.

On the other hand, if you feel as if COVID-19 has had a negative impact on your mental health, you're definitely not alone. And help is out there. Speak to your doctor if your low mood is affecting your ability to perform daily tasks, make decisions, or enjoy things that would have previously made you happy.

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  1. Stallard, P., Pereira, A., & Barros, L. Post-traumatic growth during the COVID-19 pandemic in carers of children in Portugal and the UK: Cross-sectional online surveyBJPsych Open, 7(1), E37. doi:10.1192/bjo.2021.1

  2. Pan K, et al. The mental health impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on people with and without depressive, anxiety, or obsessive-compulsive disorders: a longitudinal study of three Dutch case-control cohorts. The Lancet Psychiatry. 2021 Feb. doi:10.1016/S2215-0366(20)30491-0