Compassion Fatigue was coined by Charles Figley in the 1980s and refers to a set of negative psychological symptoms that caregivers experience in the course of their work while being exposed to direct traumatic events or through secondary trauma.
Compassion fatigue is an erosive process, not attributed to a single exposure to trauma. It is the result of ongoing, repeated exposure to traumatic situations, whether direct or indirect. Over time, the act of providing care in the context of human suffering and trauma wears down the individual's psychological resilience, leaving the care worker in a combined state of burnout that leads to more serious mental health conditions such PTSD, anxiety or depression.
Essentially, the continuous exposure to the trauma of others may lead care work professionals to manifest the same or similar symptoms as the trauma survivors they have helped.
This places many occupations such as law enforcement, first responders, healthcare professionals, teachers, and community service workers right in the crosshairs if they have the risk factors to be affected by it. Between 40% and 85% of helping professionals develop vicarious trauma, compassion fatigue and/or high rates of traumatic symptoms, according to compassion fatigue expert Francoise Mathieu.
During a TED Talk in 2017, Patricia Smith, the founder of the Compassion Fatigue Awareness project, had this to say,
“Caregivers are not good at asking for help. Asking for help is hard, no matter who you are. For nurses, doctors, teachers and more, the idea of leaving work can seem like an impossibility. You may feel guilty or that you are abandoning your patients or students. But if you are struggling with drug or alcohol use, you need help too. Your clients, patients and students will be happy for you.”
With that in mind, try to be aware of signs of compassion fatigue and seek help.
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