The Trauma Of The Coronavirus Pandemic Among
Piotr Długosz, Pedagogical University of Krakow.
Długosz P. (2020), The Trauma Of The Coronavirus Pandemic Among Polish Students, in «Cambio.
Rivista sulle trasformazioni sociali», OpenLab on Covid-19. DOI: 10.13128/cambio- 8951
Modernity has made man believe that they rule over nature and control all the elements.
Nonetheless, along with modernisation processes, its negative effects appeared. Humans have
been exposed to health and ecological threats triggered by their activity. The Bhopal disaster
connected with environmental contamination or the Chernobyl disaster have shown that the
effects of modernisation may be dangerous and pose a threat to human health and lives.
Together with technological advancement, the modernisation risk has grown to an
unprecedented scale. The dark side of modernity, as observed by Ulrich Beck (1992: 20), abounds
in various modernisation risks. The growth of the reign of technological and economic
advancement is to a greater extent balanced by the production of risk, which only at early stages
may be labelled as “latent” side effects. The veil of concealment is lifted along with
universalisation of threats. Threats to the lives of plants, animals and humans emerge. What is
more, together with emerging globalisation, they become commonplace and no one can hide or
escape from them. We are witnesses to the rise of a global society of risk. As noticed by Anthony
Giddens (2006: 91), the modern risk refers to all the social classes in all the countries and the
reach of its consequences - experienced by everyone - is indeed global. Many kinds of man-made
risk, like those regarding health and environment, reach beyond country borders. The global
threat of diseases spreads all over the world like tsunami waves, sowing fear and death. The 20th
century might be called the age of global epidemics. Dangerous transmissible diseases often
appeared on Earth. One may refer to the most dangerous ones, which appeared in the recent
decades: SARS (2002-2003), Avian influenza (2003-2006), Swine influenza (2009-2010), Ebola
(2013-2016), Measles (2019-present). In spite of the threat caused by the above-mentioned
epidemics, we have never been put in jeopardy of their fatal consequences. Only coronavirus has
brought a real threat to health and life. The fear of the virus has grown, as it became global by
rapidly spreading all over the world.
In the middle of December 2019, in the Wuhan city in Central China, a new type of coronavirus
was diagnosed, which turned out to be similar in terms of its genetic sequence to the SARS virus
which causes acute respiratory syndrome. The new virus called SARS-CoV-2, which causes the
COVID-19 disease, started spreading all over the world rapidly. In March the virus incidence in
Europe has increased dramatically. On 11th March 2020, World Health Organisation declared the
coronavirus pandemic. Thus it may be said that COVID-19 has become a global plague of the
21st century, which leads to high mortality and gives rise to worldwide fears of infection and the
effects of becoming infected. On 29th March 2020 there were almost 700 000 confirmed cases of
coronavirus infection in the world and more than 32 000 died due to the virus. In Poland there
were 1862 confirmed cases and 22 deaths (The reach ....2020).
The coronavirus pandemic is a global phenomenon and a destructive force. The example of
social reactions to the threat gives grounds to claim that a moral panic rose, which is expressed by
increased anxiety, global society’s fear of the disease and death (Cohen 2011). Another concept
which allows for explaining the social meaning of the observed phenomenon is the theory of
trauma by Piotr Sztompka (2000). The rapidly growing number of infected and so far
unprecedented number of fatalities came as shock in the society.
The aim of this article is to show how Polish students who had to stay home since 11.03.2020
due to the suspension of University classes and lectures reacted to the pandemic. Yet another aim
of the article is an attempt to capture this macro experiment based on subjecting young people,
who had led an active lifestyle and had not known any social cataclysms, to mandatory
Theoretical basis for the research
While searching for theoretical references for the research into social effects of the coronavirus
pandemic among Polish students, the concept of cultural trauma is worth invoking. Within the
framework of the developed theory of trauma, an explication of social reactions in the situation
of the epidemic threat may be carried out. The theory was developed within the research
programme on the effects of radical changes among the society (Alexander 2004, Smellser 2004,
Neil Smelser (2004: 44) states that the “collective trauma is the memory accepted and publicly
given credence by a relevant membership group and evoking and event or situation which is
laden with affect, represented as indelible and regarded as threatening a society’s existence or
violating its fundamental presuppositions”. In this sense, trauma is a wound inflicted to a
collective identity. A cultural trauma may be the memory of Great Depression in the USA in the
1930s as well as the Chernobyl trauma of 1986.
On the other hand, Jeffrey Alexander (2010: 197) refers to traumas as naturally occurring events
that shatter an individual or collective actor’s sense of well-being. The author further states that:
the trauma experience occurs when the traumatizing event interacts with human nature. Human
beings need the sense of security, order, love and bond. If anything that undermines these needs
occurs, then according to the common theory it appears not very surprising that as an effect
people experience trauma. Alexander in his understanding of collective trauma puts emphasis on
disturbances to social homeostasis. A sudden loss of social security leads to social shock. In this
case the mechanisms of trauma are rooted in the sudden loss of social security by a social
The invoked definitions presume that social trauma arises when people experience negative
events which undermine their sense of security and are perceived as external and unwanted. In
other words, trauma is a social fact, as Emil Durkheim (1982) puts it. It is widely distributed
among a given group, a common experience of a collectivity of members. It acquires the features
of factuality or becomes manifested in the case of each member, it is perceived as imposed
forcefully, limits one’s activity. The threat of coronavirus is a good example of a social fact of
traumatic meaning. Under its influence, governments, owners of companies and people in general
make different decisions and try to adapt to the new situation. Mass buying out of foodstuffs,
clearing agents and other goods on the day of declaring the suspension of classes at schools may
be an example of such collective actions taken under pressure of increasing fear and panic. The
society afflicted by various disasters from the past activated the previously verified strategies
based on stocking up for the time of crisis and the threat of the coronavirus pandemic. The
society remains under the influence of fear which was given rise by the coronavirus pandemic.
Piotr Sztompka (2000: 28) maintains that trauma may affect three spheres of human existence.
The first one is biological or demographic. It may be revealed in the form of biological
degradation of mankind, increase in the number of incidences, mental disorders, decrease in
reproduction, increase in mortality and hunger. Second of all, it may strike the social structure. It
may ruin the existing relations, upset existing arrangements, overturn the existing hierarchy.
Thirdly, it may strike culture. It may upset the society’s cultural tissue.
The phenomenon of the coronavirus pandemic influences all the levels of trauma. People are
worried about their health and lives, the number of infected and fatalities increases. The circles of
infected people grow and strike the society’s biological tissue. The threat of coronavirus resulted
in the lockdown of schools, universities, service points, cinemas, restaurants, bus transportation.
People lose their jobs, their income decreases, they experience degradation of their status, cannot
afford to pay their credits or rents. The sole situation gives rise to economic fears. Individuals live
in uncertainty and fear as regards their future. They do not know what the economy and their
living standards will look like in the near future. The threat to their existential security arises and
the belief that we live in a safe and the best of all possible worlds is questioned. It suddenly turns
out that nothing is certain and our whole existence is facing a major trial. Ontological security
(Giddens 1991) in the circumstances of increasing threat of coronavirus escalated by media bursts
like a soap bubble. It turns out that there is no antidote for the pandemic. Science and medicine
are helpless. Media reports on the increasing number of incidences, the sight of elderly people
lying on hospital floors, coffins taken away by military vehicles, lockdown of cities, closure of
country borders create the atmosphere of dread and fear. Trauma is enhanced by social isolation
of millions of people worldwide. As in the time of the medieval plague, people are subjected to
stay within their cities and homes and leaving them is strictly forbidden (Marzano 2009: 18).
All these events may generate trauma. Suddenly a dangerous epidemic which poses a real threat
to the lives and health of millions of people all over the world emerges. The fear of disease is
accompanied by a sudden isolation. People remain locked at home and are deprived of current
possibilities of spending their free time, working and leading social lives. Limitations on peer
contacts may turn out especially dangerous to youth, who function mainly in their peer groups
(Tenbruck 1965). The crowding of a large number of people in a limited housing space will
generate stress and tension. Moreover, anticipatory anxiety connected with dismissals,
redundancies or decrease of salary emerges. People become afraid for the way this situation
influences the economy and their living standards.
To sum up, the precondition for the emergence of a cultural trauma is an event which upsets the
current cultural tissue. A possibly traumatic event becomes a trauma if it is defined as a trauma.
In such a case, the trauma discourse must appear. Media reports on the coronavirus pandemic,
ongoing discussion on this issue, following information regarding this topic indicate the existence
of the sense of threat among people. Subsequently, upon defining these events as threatening and
undermining identity, the symptoms of trauma in the form of apathy, fear, moral panic and
psychosocial symptoms appear. The deterioration of health, negative evaluation of actions taken
by the government and relevant services, anxiety and fear of infection constitute symptoms of
trauma. In the next stage, reactions which are supposed to be the response to its occurrence
appear (Giddens 1991). They can be divided into active and passive responses. All the responses
which facilitate the departure from trauma shall be included in the first group. An active dissent
or combating the threat, mobilisation and attempt at opposing it occur. Here it may be observed
that people buy out spirits, masks, food from the shops and organise collections of money, masks
and protection supplies for hospitals. They also get involved in aid for seniors. Ignoring the
threat or taking potluck and resignation from combating the trauma shall be included in the
passive responses. An example of such an attitude is a pragmatic acceptance, that is focusing on
daily life as if nothing ever changed. People go to work, shops, church. They do not follow the
instructions as regards the limitation of contacts, keep meeting each other. Such situation was
observed in Italy. The citizens of this country ignored warnings and are currently unable to deal
with treatment of the infected and burying the dead. An attempt to redirect attention to other
areas in order not to plunge into sadness occurs as well. There is also a strategy of consistent
optimism and the belief in a quick disappearance of the threat of pandemic, that due to the
Providence, luck, science the virus will be stopped and the infected will be cured. Yet another
strategy is based on the belief that one must submit to it, that in the risk society everything is
possible and pandemics of dangerous viruses occur. In the face of that an individual lives the
moment and does not worry about the future. Such behaviours are noticed among those who use
the quarantine to throw a party at which they will have fun, not taking into account the threat.
Figure 1. Model of social trauma
The survey method was used to collect data. It allows for conducting research on large groups of
individuals. The survey is based on asking a selected group of people questions which are mainly
closed questions and then they are subject to quantitative analysis. The CAWI internet survey was
used in the research. Recruiting respondents took place in two forms. The students of the
Pedagogical University of Kraków were sent e-mails with a link to the survey and an invitation to
fill it out. The link to the survey was also shared in social media which gather students from the
Respondents were selected using purposive sampling. Mainly the students of the Pedagogical
University of Kraków were included in the research, as due to the invitation sent by e-mail the
survey was filled out by them. The sample was selected on the basis of the availability of
The on-line survey is a cheap and fast method to carry out social research. Its disadvantage is the
lack of representativity. The research carried out in a short time shall be perceived as an
exploration and a diagnosis of the problem issues.
The research was carried out between 18th and 27th March. 3533 surveys were collected. On the
basis of the received answers, an attempt to explain social consequences of the pandemic among
Polish students will be taken.
Table 1. Characteristics of the researched sample (in %)
Place of residence
City up to 20
20 000 -
100 000 -
The average age of the researched students is 23. On the basis of the conducted characteristics of
the research sample, it may be said that females significantly prevailed over male respondents. It
is consistent with the actual state, since - as shown by major research carried out among students
in the recent years - in Polish universities there are more women (62%) than men (38%). The
researched group comes from different societies, taking into account the size of the place of
residence. The majority of respondents evaluate their financial standing as average. Taking into
account the social standing measured by the level of parents’ education, it may be noticed that the
respondents come from families of tertiary and secondary education. Nonetheless, mothers have
higher education than fathers of the respondents.
By taking up the research, we wanted to answer the question in what way the coronavirus
pandemic and its consequences (mandatory quarantine) influenced the psychosocial condition of
Does the coronavirus epidemic pose a threat to youth?
Do the students express the fear of pandemic?
Are the symptoms of trauma noticeable among them?
In what way do they try to combat the emerging threat?
Results of the research
In the model of social trauma (Figure 1), which is circular, the initial stage which means a
possibly traumatic event is presented. A possibly traumatic event is connected with the social
change of particular parameters. As observed by Sztompka (2000: 22), the change is sudden and
quick. It is radical and touches the very essence of social life. It is perceived as external, imposed,
as something that happens devoid of the involvement of an individual. It appears as something
unexpected, unpredictable, shocking, terrifying.
The pandemic gives rise to unprecedented changes in people’s lives. The sole situation is
unwanted, uncomfortable. The threat has come from far away and - worst of all - there is no
cure. People, authorities, relevant services feel helpless, which is noticeable in media reports.
Therefore, the trauma of this event increases the lack of possibility to defy it. The worst thing
about this situation is that people have lost faith in science and medicine. For people who
thought that man gained control over everything, it is a shock. A general fear for the future
connected with the coronavirus pandemic appears.
To sum up, the coronavirus pandemic is a traumatic situation which has impact on the
psychosocial functioning of an individual. This impact is of negative character. The results of the
conducted research demonstrate the meaning of the coronavirus threat.
The data presented in Figure 2 show that the vast majority of the researched students are
interested in the phenomenon of the virus epidemic. It is worth stressing that as much as a half
of respondents is highly interested in information about the disease.
Figure 2. The level of interest in the coronavirus pandemic (in %)
Another index aiming at demonstrating the scale of interest in the epidemic is the question about
the level of knowledge about the infection. The respondents were asked if they know how many
people are infected with the coronavirus at the moment. The data show that 95% of students has
The collected answers indicate the commonness of interest in the coronavirus pandemic among
Polish students. Youth, despite the fact that they are to the least extent threatened by the dangers
of becoming infected with the virus, try to follow the course of events continuously. The large
scale of interest in the coronavirus pandemic may indicate the trauma of the coronavirus event.
It arouses keen interest, students search for knowledge about it. The epidemic gives rise to
discussions, the issue is present in media, conversations at work and home. Moral panic will
appear, as the pandemic generates fear and social anxiety. Mass buying out of foodstuffs, clearing
agents and other goods on the day of declaring suspension of classes at schools may be a
symptom of such panic. People went to shops to protect themselves against hard times.
The mass interest in the pandemic does not validate the claim that a trauma has occurred.
Defining this event as threatening and upsetting the demographical structure of the country must
Highly interested Rather interested Rather not
take place in such a case. In other words, a definition of the situation is crucial and a tragic
narration must occur. People usually derive definitions from arsenals of meanings, that is, in this
case these are media which inform about the number of infected, increasing number of deaths,
lockdowns of healthcare facilities. Therefore, the arsenals of meanings are unambiguously
negative and define the coronavirus as a phenomenon threatening people’s lives and health.
Figure 3. Evaluation of the level of threat (in %)
Figure 3 demonstrates the distribution of answers regarding the evaluation of the level of threat.
The respondents were asked if the coronavirus epidemic constitutes a threat to the lives of Poles
and if it is a threat to the respondents. The answers indicate that the vast majority of respondents
believe that the coronavirus epidemic poses a threat to others rather than the researched
students. 68% of respondents are convinced that it is a state of a serious danger to Poles and only
22% consider it a serious threat to themselves.
The analyses show that the students believe that the epidemic is more dangerous to others rather
than themselves. It is a psychological phenomenon and it is called unrealistic optimism (Weistein
1980). The phenomenon is based on the fact that majority of people firmly believe that Others
rather than themselves will be victims of unfortunate events. The majority also think that they are
more predisposed to experience positive events. Unrealistic optimism is also observed in Polish
research (Czapiński 1998).
The surveyed students are convinced - in accordance with the unrealistic optimism rule - that the
pandemic poses a threat to the general population, but not to them personally. The fact that the
Yes, it poses a serious
Poses only a slight
Does not pose a
Hard to say
for Poles for me
perception of threat among the respondents may be as well influenced by the knowledge of the
danger connected with the virus is also worth taking into account. In all the announcements,
media reports, the fact that the pandemic is a threat to elderly people is stressed. Youth due to
their age and vitality are the least threatened by mortality in case of becoming infected.
Figure 4. Fears of becoming infected with the coronavirus (in %)
Data presented in Figure 4 confirm the thesis that students are not seriously worried about the
infection. Only 14% reveal great fear. Almost the same percentage of respondents see no basis
for fear. Most of the respondents evaluate their chances of becoming infected as average. The
surveyed students have estimated on a quantitative scale the probability of becoming infected to
39%. Thus, as indicated by detailed analyses, personal fears of infection are mild.
Table 2. Variables explaining the results of the sense of threat (linear regression analysis)
Interest in the information on
Evaluation of actions taken
by the government and
I am very worried I am worried to a
I am a little worried I am not worried at all
The regression analyses show that independent variables explain almost 20% of the dependent
variable. The fear of infection influences the interest in the information on pandemic to the
greatest extent. The higher the level of interest in the epidemic, the greater the fear of infection.
Therefore, a hypothesis that “bombing” students with information on epidemic may generate
fear among students may be put forward. Gender is also a significant factor in experiencing
anxiety in the situation of the threat of the virus. Higher level of fears is experienced by women.
Yet another variable is the evaluation of actions taken by the government to combat the
epidemic. Those who highly evaluate the government have also a lower level of fear. The last
factor influencing the level of fear is religiosity. The respondents of a higher level of religiosity
fear the infection more often.
To sum up, it should be concluded that the greatest fears of infection are observed among female
students of a higher level of religiosity who are highly interested in the pandemic and evaluate the
actions taken by government negatively. Those respondents are under the influence of the
coronavirus pandemic trauma.
Figure 5. Satisfaction with life (in %)
If a possibly traumatic event becomes considered traumatic, the symptoms of trauma appear.
One of them may be a lowered level of satisfaction with life. The data shown in Figure 5 indicate
that the psychological well-being is rather unaffected by the state of epidemic. Approximately
81% of respondents declare that they are satisfied with their lives. The results of the analysis of
the Pearson’s r correlation coefficient (statistically relevant) also indicate that along with
Rather satisfied Rather not
I don’t know
religiosity, satisfaction with life increases (r=0,121). The correlation with the evaluation of
financial status is also statistically relevant (r=0,181). The higher the assessment of one’s financial
standing, the higher the level of satisfaction with life. Thus the obtained results indicate that the
psychological well-being is to a lesser extent connected with the current situation. It is a deeper
characteristic, which is indicated by the ‘onion’ theory of happiness (Czapiński 2004:100). The
author maintains that the psychological well-being consists of three layers like an onion. The
deepest layer is the will to live, understood as an objective, that is, independent from
consciousness, standard of psychological well-being of an individual, the state of which is
constant. The second layer defined as a general subjective well-being consists of the emotional
balance and general satisfaction as well as the sense of meaning of life. The last, external layer
consists of current emotional experiences and fractional satisfactions relating to various spheres
Thus, the psychological well-being is the deepest characteristic, which is not vulnerable to the
influence of external disturbances. It also may be that the beginning of quarantine is only the
initial stage of stress called the alert in which the body is mobilised to act (Selye 1956). Only in
the case of a longer quarantine and deprivation subsequent stages may appear: adaptation and
burnout, and then the indices of well-being may decrease. It is worth remembering that deeper
layers of well-being, will to live also have the objective to mobilise an individual to take actions in
difficult situations. Otherwise, subsequent petty troubles and daily difficulties might weaken the
will to live and one’s capabilities of coping with problems.
The situation of social isolation, seclusion, sudden change of daily functioning and emerging
threat undoubtedly results in stress. Therefore an attempt to observe what the psychosomatic
well-being looks like in this unique situation was taken. One should bear in mind that in the case
of a single measurement it is difficult to evaluate the influence of the situation of the threat of
pandemic on the condition of youth. Nonetheless, the knowledge of the students’ well-being
allows for determining how they cope with the difficult situation.
The data in the table indicate that in the last week the symptoms of nervousness, gloom, bad
mood, lack of energy and irritability occurred more often. The symptoms of stress are visible and
there is no denying that the whole situation connected with the threat of the virus has a negative
impact on emotions. The students experienced somatic symptoms of stress such as dizziness,
stomachaches or trouble sleeping to a lesser degree. The most common somatic symptom are
As it has been already said, it is difficult to determine unambiguously that the states of anxiety
and lowered mood are directly evoked by the current situation of epidemic. It is a fact that
symptoms of stress are observed among the respondents. It should be observed that the
measurement was carried out at the very beginning of the students’ quarantine. Prolonging the
quarantine, further isolation, an increasing scale of incidences, introduction of further limitations
may hinder daily functioning, which may influence the level of stress and intensify its symptoms.
Figure 6. Psychosomatic symptoms (in %)
The correlation analysis allows for studying the relationships between independent variables with
the symptoms of psychological discomfort. By the same means it allows for determining whether
the emotions observed among respondents are directly connected with the coronavirus pandemic
and the threat resulting from it.
In order to conduct the analysis, an index of psychosomatic symptoms has been developed. It
has been created on the basis of calculating the average value for all the eight measured
5 2 2 7
20 15 13 13
28 24 22 23
28 29 31 33
32 34 31
Yes, several times Yes, a few times Yes, 1-2 times No, I haven’t felt
Table 3. Results of correlation analysis of the psychosomatic symptoms index
Coronavirus constitutes a
threat to Poles
Interest in the information on
Coronavirus constitutes a
Satisfaction with life
Amount of time spent on the
Personal fears of infection
Probability of getting
The psychological well-being is related to the psychosomatic condition of the students to the
greatest extent. According to the presumptions, it is supposed to constitute a protective shield
against the negative influence of external factors. The influence of gender on the emotions of
respondents is also observed. A greater intensity of symptoms is observed among women rather
than men. The level of fear of infection has also a significant impact on the emergence of stress
symptoms. The higher the fear of infection, the higher the intensity of stress symptoms. The
analyses also indicate that along with the amount of time spent on the Internet, the average
number of psychosomatic symptoms increases. It may indicate that the Internet makes tracking
the information about the pandemic easier. Another correlation indicates that the higher the
interest in the pandemic, the higher the level of psychosomatic symptoms. Financial standing also
has impact on the level of stress - the better the status, the lower the intensity of psychosomatic
To sum up, in accordance with the theory of trauma, it may be indicated that its symptoms are
present among the respondents in which the coronavirus pandemic resulted in a shock. They
perceive the occurrence of the pandemic as a serious threat to their health and lives. The fact
that the analyses have shown that a greater susceptibility to trauma is present among women and
students who have the sense of deprivation is also significant. Furthermore, psychological well-
being is of great importance in evoking trauma. If someone had a lower level of well-being in the
situation of the emergence of a traumatic event, they will be more vulnerable to its destructive
The next stage of the model is the one in which the reactions to trauma are analysed. If a trauma
and its symptoms occur, an individual takes up actions which are the response to the emerging
trauma. The reactions to trauma may be active and passive. They may lead to the status of
combating trauma, and when they are dysfunctional, they influence the deepening of trauma.
In Figure 8 the distribution of answers to the question regarding the strategies of coping with the
trauma of the coronavirus pandemic are shown. The respondents most often take active actions
which aim at minimising the threat. On the one hand, they are various forms of protection
against infection. On the other hand, they take up various activities in order to dissent from the
stream of thoughts connected with the coronavirus epidemic. Some of them indulge in their
hobbies, do gardening, read books. The others, as shown by the example of social media
(Facebook) post their childhood photographies in order to reminisce over the past together and
dissent from thinking about the lurking threat.
Figure 8. Reactions to trauma (in %)
Rationalisation, which is based on looking for positive aspects and concentrating on good things
in their lives is also common. A more or less similar percentage of students prays to God for help
and asks others for help and advice. It may be seen that the students adopt the ‘sweet lemon’
020 40 60 80 100 120
I ask others for advice and help
I become mobilised and try to do everything in order to
protect myself against it
I resort to alcohol, tobacco, other psychoactive drugs
I comfort myself with the thought that it could be worse,
but by now I am healthy
I give up, don’t know what to do, don’t know what is
going to happen
I take sedatives
I pray to God for help
I focus on other things which distract my attention from
the pandemic and improve my mood
strategy by convincing themselves that it is not so bad. They also entrust themselves to the
Providence or seek social support.
The results of the analyses show that to a lesser extent the students take up actions based on
decreasing tension by means of taking psychoactive substances or medicine. Not many
respondents declare that they adopt escapist strategies based on resignation and taking potluck.
Table 4. Results of correlation analysis
Knowledge of the
Interest in the
Coronavirus is a
threat to Poles
Coronavirus is a
threat to you
Number of hours
spent on the
Place of residence
Personal fears of
Table 4 presents the results of the Pearson r correlation. Its aim is to demonstrate the factors
which influence the actions taken in the face of threat of trauma. The collation includes only
those strategies the correlation coefficients of which where higher than 1.
Actions aiming at seeking social support in the face of danger characterise the students who fear
the threat. The mobilisation strategy is well described be independent variables. People highly
interested in the pandemic try to prepare to combat the threat most often. The higher the
probability of getting infected was estimated by the respondents, the more often this strategy is
adopted. The people who are convinced that the coronavirus is a serious threat to themselves and
the society more often combat the virus actively. An active constatation is preferred more often
by men rather than women.
Resignation from combating the threat is observed among youth of lower well-being. The fear of
infection increases the occurrence of this strategy. Therefore the fear of infection together with a
depressive mood increase the chances of giving in to the pandemic.
Actions based on entrusting oneself to the Providence are more often taken up by women rather
than men. It is a strategy preferred by the religious youth. It is more often adopted by the
respondents who fear the disease. Prayer is also more typical for students from rural areas and
small towns rather than the youth inhabiting large cities. The respondents who spend less time on
the Internet refer to God more often.
The strategy based on redirecting attention from the epidemic is present among women more
often than among men. The respondents under the influence of the fear of infection adopt it
To sum up, the reactions to trauma are most often activated by the fear of infection. The
hypothesis that different situations considered traumatic lead to reactions to trauma is hereby
confirmed. Mobilisation is present among students who seek knowledge on the pandemic and
fear the infection. Regression characterises youth with a lower will to live. Prayer is used by
students who come from small towns.
The research carried out among Polish students has shown that the use of the model of social
trauma to analyse and explain social effects of the coronavirus pandemic among Polish society is
justified. The trauma diagnosed among Polish youth is probably higher among older age grups.
Due to the limitations imposed by the on-line survey and the availability of respondents, only the
youngest segment of Polish society could be researched. Nonetheless, only comprehensive
research of all the age groups allows for a more detailed diagnosis of trauma evoked by the
pandemic among Polish society.
The collected data show that the rapid and dangerous coronavirus epidemic resulted in an initial
trauma among the collectivity of students. The situation of epidemic disturbed the balance of
social security. It suddenly got the generation which does not know any social disasters into the
state of fear of infection and death. The shock turned out to be even more severe, as in the times
of late modernity, mankind turned out to be helpless while facing the virus. All the systems the
task of which is to ensure security, such as healthcare, science seem to be helpless in the face of
the threat of the coronavirus.
Surprise, helplessness, defencelessness and fear have been given rise by the rapid spreading of the
virus. Dread and uniqueness of the situation is enhanced by extraordinary measures taken in the
face of the threat, such as the lockdown of schools, universities, offices, service points. Not only
may these actions as such enhance the sense of danger and fears, it may also lead to the second
wave of trauma evoked by the coronavirus. At the very moment the economic costs of the
pandemic are high. The students have lost their jobs in services and have trouble with paying
rents or university fees. In the situation of the quarantine, companies are winding and calculating
their losses. A large economic crisis, which is already feared by many people, may be a result of
the pandemic. The situation is twice as traumatogenic. On the one hand, individuals fear of
infection and death due to the epidemic. The fear may increase day by day together with the
increase of incidence and deaths due to the disease. On the other hand, the trauma is evoked by
economic effects of the lack of available jobs and the spectre of the upcoming unemployment.
Moreover, it should be presumed that youth as a category which remains in the margin of the
social structure, preparing to enter adulthood, may be the main victim of the coronavirus
The carried out research has proven that the students are under the influence of the trauma of
the epidemic. The vast majority of them is interested in the phenomenon and follows its course.
They also believe that it constitutes a serious threat to Polish citizens. According to the
respondents, the virus threatens them personally to a lesser extent. They estimate their chances of
becoming infected at approximately 40%. It is worth stressing that the coronavirus trauma failed
to disturb their psychological well-being. Nonetheless, psychosomatic symptoms connected with
the threat evoked by the epidemic are observed among the respondents. They are mainly
anxieties and lowered moods. The conducted research has shown that the students in the face of
danger adopt active strategies for combating the trauma. Redirecting attention from information
about trauma is also common. Part of students also prays and seeks support in others. The main
factor influencing the decisions taken is the fear of becoming infected with the coronavirus.
Alexander J. C. (2004), Toward a Theory of Cultural Truama. In: J. C. Alexander, R. Eyerman, B.
Gisen, N. J. Smelser, P. Sztompka, Cultural Trauma and Collective Identity. Berkeley: University of
Beck U. (1992), Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity. London: Sage.
Cohen S. (1972), Folk Devils and Moral Panics, The Creation of the Mods and Rockers. London:
MacGibbon & Ke.
Czapiński J. (1998), Wartościowanie-efekt negatywności. O naturze realizmu. [Valuation - the effect of
negativity. About the nature of realism] Wrocław: Ossolineum.
Czapiński J. (2004), Psychologiczne teorie szczęścia [Psychological theories of happiness], [w:] J. Czapiński
(red.), Psychologia pozytywna [Positive psychology]. Warszawa: PWN.
Durkheim E. (1982), The Rules of Sociological Method. New York: Free Press.
Giddens A. (1991), Modernity and Self-identity: Self and Society in the Late Modern Age. Cambridge:
Giddens A. (2006), Sociology. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Marzano M. (2009), Visages de la peur. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.
Selye H. (1956), The stress of life. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Smelser N. J. (2004), Psychological Trauma and Cultural Trauma. In: J. C. Alexander, R. Eyerman, B.
Gisen, N. J. Smelser, P. Sztompka, Cultural Trauma and Collective Identity. Berkeley: University of
Sztompka P. (2000), Trauma wielkiej zmiany [The Trauma of Great Change]. Warszawa: ISP PAN.
Sztompka P. (2004), The trauma of Social Change: A Case of Postcommunist Societies. In: J. C.Alexander,
R. Eyerman, B. Gisen, N. J. Smelser, P. Sztompka, Cultural Trauma and Collective Identity. Berkeley:
University of California Press.
Tenbruck F. H. (1965), Jugend und Gesellschaft: Soziologische Perspektiven. Freiburg: Rombach.
Weinstein N. D. (1980), Unrealistic optimism about future life events. Journal of Personality and
Social Psychology 39: 806-820.
Zasięg koronawirusa COVID-19.2020. https://www.medonet.pl/zdrowie/zdrowie-dla-