Four Types of People During Crises

Since the beginning of the isolation era mandated by COVID-19, the America Psychological Association (APA) has been sending daily emails to its members, including me. I have read all of them and although many of them do not apply to me, due to the fact they concern how to provide psychological therapy to patients via teleconference, other emails are informative both in general, and as they relate to my consulting business. One of the most interesting APA emails I read discussed psychological research findings regarding various populations’ reactions to crises, such as the current worldwide pandemic. It listed 4 distinct types of people, along with their typical reactions to a crisis situation:

  1. Type 1. This group of people is comprised of individuals who were psychologically healthy prior to the crisis and who remain psychologically healthy despite the current, negative situation. The primary characteristic this group of people have in common is resilience. People who are resilient are more likely to help other people through difficulties and are more likely than other people to emerge from the situation unscathed.
  2. Type 2. This group of people is comprised of individuals who were psychologically healthy prior to the crisis, but whose mental health is pushed to new limits by the pandemic. People in this group tend to adopt protective measures designed to elevate their ability to handle the additional demands of the crisis, leaving few available resources for other demands placed on them. For the most part, they will bounce back when the crisis abates.
  3. Type 3. This group of people were functioning “normally,” without any overt signs of mental illness, prior to the pandemic. Although they may have had anxiety or suffered from depression, they were able to perform their jobs, interact with loved ones, and generally, enjoy a positive existence prior to the onset of a crisis situation. However, as a result of the crisis related to the pandemic, people in this group have been “pushed over the edge” from mental health to mental illness. They are likely to require mental health assistance in order to return to their former condition.
  4. Type 4. This group of people is the smallest of the 4 types and is comprised of individuals who were severely mentally ill prior to the pandemic and who lack the cognitive resources to cope with the ways in which the world has changed. People in this group are in need of significant mental health counseling and other resources that are, in many ways, lacking during the current pandemic. They are at a greater risk than people in the other 3 groups of mental health breakdown, suicide, and accidental death.

As I write this post, I have considered what I, as a psychologist, can do to help those around me. David and I have been staying in contact with as many people as possible, particularly those who live alone, are disabled, have psychological problems, etc. so that we will be ready if they need us. We have been doing regular “wellness checks” on people we believe will benefit from our care and compassion. And, as you might have guessed, both David and I are in the Type 1 group of resilient people. Thank goodness for mental health! Don’t take yours for granted.

I think the pressures of COVID-19 have shown cracks in our societies in ways never before seen.  Whether in the political leaders who were “caught with their pants down,” or the fringe members of the public who are, on the one side, out in force with guns exposed demanding the freedom to die, or, on the other side, who think that wearing a mask while walking or jogging alone will save them from the grim reaper.  But, in the middle, Melissa and I know people who were probably in category 2 or 3 who were getting along just fine.  And, we’ve observed, live and in person, some of the craziness that has accompanied this crisis.  The experiences happen out in public shopping – I saw a man today at Publix with a home made face mask made of coffee filters and rubber bands.  And, lots of people were oblivious to the directional signage intended to keep people at safe distances.  Probably worse, online in various group settings, hearing/reading how some people are excoriating others about every minor perceived infraction of the rules.  Everyone with neuroses close to the surface are showing their true selves – and it isn’ pretty.  The challenge for us, Type 1 people, is to try to set an example, use reason, and lead the way in anyway we can while keeping an eye out for those who are struggling.  If you need help, resources are available, including, in Florida, the Florida CORONOVIRUS HOTLINE at 866-779-6121 or by email,  

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