Compassion fatigue is what occurs when a caregiver is no longer able to properly react in an empathetic of sympathetic manner when there is a crisis situation developing. This typically happens because they have been overwhelmed with a need for their compassion within the recent past.
48% of the US work force experiences high levels of personal distress that is directly associated to their job duties.
Caregivers come in many different forms. Health careers, pastors, and social workers are just a small component of the social work force. Anyone who must care for someone else as part of their professional responsibilities is someone who has a higher risk of suffering from compassion fatigue. When the fatigue hits, the results can take a number of different outcomes.
- There is a strong connection between Secondary Traumatic Stress [STS] and careers that require helping others in some way.
- Suicide rates, high employment turnover, burnout, and other disruptive symptoms are all related to the symptoms of STS.
- Within the last year, over 21% of those in a helping profession noted that the amount of overtime they were required to work increased.
There’s no doubt that the people in a helping profession have it tough right now. Budgets are being slashed, patient loads are being increased, and people are asked to do more work for static wages. How 52% of people don’t have high stress levels in these professions is a very amazing statistic in itself! What is clearly important in these statistics is to find a way for people to find ways to cope with stress proactively throughout the day instead of at home after the day is over. Why? Because with more overtime and responsibilities on everyone’s plates, there is less time after work to cope any more.
What Contributes to Compassion Fatigue?
- The highest percentage of workers that reporting experiencing some form of compassion fatigue are nurses at over 40%.
- 7% of workers within the helping fields took their last sick day because they needed a mental health day, which is equal to the amount of people who took one because of a family situation.
- 68% of people who experience compassion fatigue are full time employees.
- Only 28% of people who are working in a helping career have received some form of specialized trauma training.
- 81% of the workers who suffer from compassion fatigue are women.
- The greatest factor in the development of compassion fatigue was a lack of perceived fairness in the work being assigned. The actual workload was ranked the third lowest contributing factor in a recent study.
- The two most common reactions amongst workers who begin suffering from compassion fatigue are cynicism and emotional exhaustion.
Once people begin experiencing compassion fatigue, the quality of their work begins to decrease. There just isn’t any real way to counter the reaction because every action has an equal and opposite reaction. When stress has the ability to set in, there is less satisfaction felt and this leads to exhaustion and cynicism that reduces the overall quality of interactions that are taking place. This is why proactive coping is such a necessary component to the training process. The fact that only about 1 in 4 workers gets any specialized trauma training is also likely a contributing factor because when a disaster hits, an untrained person won’t know what to expect and this unpredictability causes enough stress on someone by itself.
How Prevalent Is Compassion Fatigue Today?
- 86.9% of emergency response personnel report experiencing the symptoms of compassion fatigue after being exposed to events that are highly distressing.
- 90% of new doctors under the age of 40 report that their family life has suffered because of their work.
- Studies show that caregivers who are able to maintain a positive attitude toward life and keep a sense of humor whenever possible can better balance the stresses that exists when compassion fatigue occurs, even though up to 70% of social workers show STS symptoms.
- 70% of therapists have experienced some form of secondary trauma that is directly related to their profession.
- 83% of hospice nurses have not had a debriefing support after they experienced the death of a patient and 79% of workers within this field rate having moderate to high levels of compassion fatigue.
- Immigration judges have higher levels of burnout than prison guards or even physicians that work at hospitals.
- 36% of forensic investigators experience some form of compassion fatigue in an ongoing manner.
- 1 in 2 child welfare workers experiences STS symptoms that fall within the severe range.
How is it possible to maintain a cheerful attitude when there is so much violence, negativity, and abuse surrounding you? Is it really possible to laugh after someone loses a patient, even if it is to natural causes? The facts show clearly that being able to find something positive out of every situation can help to reduce the levels of compassion fatigue that are being felt. Although some situations don’t seem to have any positives at first light, even the effort to find the good and take that out of the situation and to reject the rest will provide lower levels of secondary stress to all of the helping professions.
What Needs to Change?
- Although burnout can occur because of compassion fatigue, it is important to separate the two issues because they are separate.
- More frequent breaks from the day, even if they are just for a few moments, can help to provide a better coping mechanism against stress.
- Practicing meditation is a proven method of reducing stress and providing a barrier against future stress.
- Making sure that caregivers take vacation time, pursue hobbies, eat well, and get enough sleep is also a critical component to the process of coping.
Compassion fatigue will always exist because it takes a lot of effort to care for people. These careers must exist because people need help every day. Through it all, however, it is important to make sure each worker takes time for themselves so that they can maintain their quality of work and continue helping one person at a time.