Saturday, November 5, 2011

What Is Compassion Fatigue ?

Compassion Fatigue is an older term which describes secondary post traumatic stress disorder. I really like the term "compassion fatigue" because it really describes what many of us feel, particularly in the internet and in the Information Age, just as citizens bombarded by one crisis after another via television.
First described in nurses in the 1950s, the person becomes "burned out", in a sense as a defensive posture, following repeated exposure to accidents, injuries, sad stories, gory injuries, etc. The term is said for have been coined for the first time then.   Some of the people prone to "compassion fatigue" are physicians, veterinarians,ministers, trauma physicians, trauma nurses, intensive care unit nurses, nurses in combat locations, emergency medical technicians,  aid workers in war torn areas, first responders, those who work with homeless individuals, disaster workers, social workers, soldiers, psychologists, psychiatrists, policemen, etc. People who reactively develop compassion fatigue have several of the following symptoms. There is excessive use of sick humor, they show symptoms of anxiety which sometimes manifests in difficulty sleeping. They express feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, and can appear not to be compassionate any longer with regard to their patients or clients. They may tend to overeat, or sometimes under eat. There is a disruption of normal life for them. They may show signs which are common to those with depression. They are less effective in their jobs than they were prior, and like those with survivor guilt, find they do not derive pleasure from much of anything. One of the reasons we are having so many difficulties with societies worldwide is that Compassion Fatigue, if not overt Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a prominent societal feature for many people. The constant barrage and bombardment through media outlets of starving children, rapes and murders of children in war torn nations, animal abuse, child abuse, child soldiers, the atrocities of war, leave many of us indifferent, on occasion, to the suffering of others. As more crises and wars occur, and layer, this tends to worsen, rather than to improve. Guard your heart. Find a way to absorb the world's news quickly without receiving a barrage of disturbing images which will impact your mood and your functionality as you prepare your own family for crises and natural disasters. For people who are employed in a high risk field for this, many employers have mandatory periodic counseling, mandatory time off, or arrangements made with which to preserve the continue the functionality of a good employee who may be edging toward compassion fatigue and burn out.  Police officers attend mandatory counseling and review following particularly difficult psychological circumstances and so do nurses on occasion.  Needing this type of aid is not a weakness, but a function of an intact humanity.
           Sometimes, this is the intent of sending psychologists and social workers to a school or a college following a sudden death. At my son's university a student was murdered, and the following day, a barrage of graduate social work students were sent to talk to the young man's classmates and his roommates.  Sadly, it was too early.  No one spoke because everyone sat in shock, still unable to process that someone who was here yesterday, could actually be gone overnight, in a flash.  Perhaps workers could be dispatched initially for assessment, and then later, when the reality begins to set in for a larger percentage of a group, for example.
                For the rest of us, your compassion and humanity are what makes you who you are. Guard it and preserve it as much as you can. Do good in the world as you are able, but accept and understand that you cannot help everyone. Don't stay up all night worrying about the world. God will be up all night anyway. Let Him take care of the things you cannot. You need your sleep. Be compassionate within your abilities and without being put upon by others. Guard your family psychologically as well.   We talk about the amazing resiliency of children, but many of them have been significantly damaged by events their parents and caregivers think will "wash out due to the resiliency of childhood".

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