How to use social media for post-traumatic growth


by Grant H. Brenner

The COVID-19 pandemic is a protracted global disaster of epic proportions, unlike anything most people have experienced in their lifetime.

Tolerate ambiguity and isolation

Unlike many disasters, which have a predictable course (see Phases of Disaster, below), pandemics do not fit a clear mold, with no clear end date, high levels of uncertainty over whether there will be waves of ongoing reinfection, unclear pathways to normality, limited data on infection and death rates, evolving information on infectious consequences, uncertain risk of immunity, and high impact of infection control measures on social relations.

The impact of COVID-19 on mental health and the direct neuropsychiatric consequences infection means that understanding the factors contributing to post-traumatic growth and resilience is particularly important.

Disaster phases

Source: SAMSHA

Many people are isolated, live alone for long periods of time, and suffer from loneliness, although many also thrive by taking advantage of opportunities for growth and change. Despite the use of video conferencing tools for work and social interaction, telepresence is not a substitute for face-to-face human relationships for the majority, leaving many people vulnerable.

Leverage social media

Social media is a positive channel through which people can seek and receive support and information. On the other hand, social media can also be a source of distress, re-traumatization, rumor and hostility, potentially worsening post-traumatic stress.

To better understand how social media works after disasters, researchers Levaot, Greene and Palgi (2020) from the University of Haifa, Israel, interviewed people following a terrible spate of fires in 2016 that devastated communities, causing injuries, the destruction of 1,800 homes and the temporary evacuation of 70 000 people.

They looked at four main factors, namely whether: 1) people increased their use of social media, 2) people offered or received help through social media, 3) social media use was related symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, and 4) social media use was linked to post-traumatic growth. They tracked data trends within a month and then at a second time, 4 months after the disaster, with a final sample of 212 people completing both waves.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTS) was measured according to DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual) psychiatric criteria using the PCL (PTSD Check List). Post-traumatic growth (PTG) was measured using a 10 item scale, the Post-Traumatic Growth Inventory, Short-Form (PTGI-SF). Participants were asked if they offered help on social media, if they received different forms of help on social media (concrete help, emotional support, useful information) and if they used less, as much or more social networks than usual.

Box: Post-traumatic growth

PTG is an important possible response following traumatic experiences. Previous work on PTG shows that people are more likely to thrive in the face of adversity with moderate levels of PTS – low levels aren’t enough to spur change, and high levels cause more damage than catalyze. the growth. Traumatic experiences can challenge previous assumptions, creating the need to adapt to new circumstances and creating opportunities. Additionally, recurring challenges over time can build resilience cumulatively as people respond adaptively, both to individuals and communities.

Through the following 10 elements, the PTGI-SF arrives at several underlying factors that contribute to growth: relationship to others, new possibilities, personal strength, spiritual change and appreciation of life, asking what change has occurred for each following the crisis:

  1. I changed my priorities on what is important in life.
  2. I have a greater appreciation for the value of my own life.
  3. I am able to do better things with my life.
  4. I have a better understanding of spiritual matters.
  5. I have a greater sense of closeness to others.
  6. I have forged a new path for my life.
  7. I know better that I can handle the difficulties.
  8. I have a stronger religious faith.
  9. I discovered that I am stronger than I thought I was.
  10. I learned a lot about how wonderful people are.


Statistical analysis showed that PTG was independently associated with both offering and receiving help through social media. Asking and offering help were also correlated; those who offer help are also more likely to ask for help, and vice versa. On average, women reported greater PTG than men, but did not vary in terms of PTS.

The majority of respondents said they used social media more than they did before the disaster, noting that overall, using social media was more useful than stressful. As with previous research, PTG was associated with PTS, possibly because stress itself drives the need for development. In fact, the researchers found that in this sample, over 25 percent of TKA were represented by giving and receiving help.

For exam

This study, while preliminary, provides research supporting the usefulness of social media in times of disaster and crisis. While there is a risk of exposure to traumatic material that aggravates PTS, spreading misinformation, and deepening political and cultural divisions, responsibly used social media helps reduce uncertainty, dispel false rumors, provide an emotional and practical support, build community, reduce loneliness, share useful resources, provide an appropriate outlet for those who offer help, build resilience, and foster the growth of individuals and communities.

In addition, social media can help those in distress deal with a traumatic experience for those who may benefit from adjusting to the new normal, while providing them with support and resources.

Unlike traditional media which highlights predominantly negative information without offering help, social media can offer organic balance, allowing people to self-regulate by exposing themselves to scary news, seeking diversions, and giving and receiving help and a sense of community. People are advised to limit their exposure to strenuous material and seek treatment when post-traumatic symptoms are problematic. Research shows that overexposure to the media worsens the reactions of many.

More research is needed to understand the ever-growing role of social media in disaster response and preparedness to guide best practices and understand which factors are most important, especially during COVID-19 where isolation and telepresence are essential features.

The critical need for channels to give and receive help, build community, increase a sense of effectiveness and control, and provide a form of safe collective trauma treatment makes social media a key platform before, during and. after crises.


Crisis and Emotional Care Team (CECT), Vibrant Emotional Health

The Disaster Philanthropy Center

Stress and coping, CDC

The Physician Helpline

Disaster Hotline

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