Return to normal: Are people ready? Psychologists weigh in

SOUTH BEND, Ind. - Howard Park was full of families enjoying the nice weather Wednesday. Kids were playing on the playground. Parents were talking to one and other. Everyone was still wearing a mask, something the State of Indiana will soon no longer be mandating. That announcement seemingly signaled the state is close to allowing large social gatherings again. That idea has brought about two different reactions from the community.

"Party," said Zakyah Samuels when asked what she would do if she could go out in a large group gathering again.

Others like Paul Pasman who routinely rides his bike to and around Howard Park in South bend, said they were not as ready.

"I don't know," Pasman said. "I just don't know all the ramifications of the virus and the vaccine, yet. So, I think I'd be a little more cautious."

Those were the two most common reactions psychology experts said to expect from a return to large group gatherings. At least one expert, board certified psychologist Sharon Bowman, said a third type of person could also emerge.

"They've been isolated so long with almost no form of human contact or very little human contact that it feels odd to think about being out with groups of people," Bowman said. "I think that group is probably going to be hesitant for quite a while."

Other experts, like Notre Dame Professor of Psychology Lee Anna Clark, said with enough time, even those people would find large group gatherings comfortable again.

"Eventually, the risk-takers are going to say 'ok, we've gotten to the point, the risk is low enough, I'm going to continue to be cautious, but I can't just live my life inside,'" Clark said.

Pasman said he had a set time he would want to wait before he would be completely ready for large social gatherings.

"I would say another year or six months to see how the side effects of the vaccine and the virus play out and different strains," Pasman said. "I'd have to give it a little more time, I guess."

Others, like 18-year-old Hope West, said the time is now.

"I think it's a good idea because it's getting warm out," West said. "Nobody wants to sit at home when it's warm."

Bowman and Clark both said staying away from people for more than a year has likely produced depression and anxiety in some people. In some people, possibly even severe cases. Both said it was important to make sure those folks see a therapist, especially since therapists have been seeing patients in those circumstances for most of this past year already.

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