On March 11, it will have been two years since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 to be a global pandemic. If that’s a milestone that makes you feel like screaming, you’re not alone.
The cumulative losses caused by COVID — measured in human lives and suffering, lost opportunities, economic disruptions, and uncertainty about the future — have taken a toll on our mental health. According to data collected by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 41 percent of Americans reported experiencing symptoms of anxiety or depression in February 2021 — four times as many as a January 2019 survey in which 11 percent said they had experienced signs of anxiety and depression. No group has been more adversely affected than parents, particularly mothers, many of whom have juggled working from home with childcare and schooling along with their other responsibilities.
And women are letting off steam. In a movement that began last year and caught on during the Omicron surge, groups of mothers, meeting in parking lots, empty football fields, and other public spaces, have been gathering for sessions of collective screaming. One such primal scream event held in late January in a park in a Boston suburb, organized by a therapist, alternated between rounds of screaming in unison and swearing.
Meeting professionals got their own COVID-19-safe opportunity to vent their frustration in January at Convening Leaders 2022 in Las Vegas, where the Tech Therapy Lounge, organized by Dahlia+Agency, invited participants to scream into paper bags.
Data collected over recent months in Convene‘s COVID-19 Recovery Dashboard Surveys helps illuminate what’s behind the urge to scream: Nearly one-third of meeting planners reported feeling exhausted and burned out in the latest survey, published Feb 18. That figure is up a few points since December, despite rising levels of optimism — 56 percent of planners reported feeling hopeful about the future in February, compared with 49 percent last December.
Can screaming help? Screaming releases stress, as anyone who’s been cut off in traffic intuitively knows, said Sarah Harmon, the therapist who organized screaming sessions in Boston, which went viral on social media. But that’s not the whole reason it feels so good — screaming with others provides a sense of community and connection.
“There’s power in seeing that you are not the only person who is suffering in this particular way,” psychiatrist Dr. Pooja Lakshmin, an expert on women’s mental health, told MSNBC. “When a woman sees that a group of mothers has given voice to the deepest feelings and thoughts that she’s been holding inside for the past two years, of course she wants to scream it from the rooftops.”
Barbara Palmer is deputy editor at Convene.