@Pamela Drew via Flickr

The pandemic has caused nearly two years of collective trauma. Many people are near a breaking point.

Nearly two years into a pandemic coexistent with several national crises, many Americans are profoundly tense. They’re snapping at each other more frequently, suffering from physical symptoms of stress and seeking methods of self-care. In the most extreme cases, they’re acting out their anger in public — bringing their internal struggles to bear on interactions with strangers, mental health experts said.

An airplane passenger is accused of attacking a flight attendant and breaking bones in her face. Three New York City tourists assaulted a restaurant host who asked them for proof of vaccination against the coronavirus, prosecutors say. Eleven people were charged with misdemeanors after they allegedly chanted “No more masks!” and some moved to the front of the room during a Utah school board meeting, the Washington Post reports.

Across the United States, an alarming number of people are lashing out in aggressive and often cruel ways in response to policies or behavior they dislike. “I think people just feel this need to feel powerful, in charge and connected to someone again,” said Jennifer Jenkins, a school board member in Brevard County, Fla., who said she has faced harassment.

The Federal Aviation Administration has initiated over 1,000 unruly-passenger investigations this year, more than five times as many as in all of 2020. Health and elections officials have expressed fear for their safety amid public vitriol. As school board meetings have become cultural battlegrounds, Attorney General Merrick Garland has asked the Justice Department to investigate what he called a “disturbing spike” in threats against educators. Some American shoppers, long used to getting their way, have unleashed their worst behavior in recent months.

In some of these circumstances, it’s unclear whether aggressive behavior has actually increased this year or whether the public has simply trained more focus on it. But mental health experts said it’s likely that the worldwide state of perpetual crisis has truly spurred more frequent instances of inappropriate and abusive behavior.

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