The Impact of Compassion Fatigue

A headline from the CBC stood out to us this past week: "Compassion fatigue hits front-line health care workers: Expert warns of exodus from the field if support not provided for health care professionals".

Compassion fatigue is a common experience developed by those in helping professions, in which an individual develops emotional strain based on consistently caring for others. It is often characterized by a decrease in compassion overtime. 

Most common in front line healthcare workers, who are consistently exposed to traumas, stress, and difficult situations, compassion fatigue is a serious health condition that is impacting huge groups. 

According to research outlined in the article from CBC, many healthcare professionals will leave the field when they develop compassion fatigue. It is often the most devoted workers who will develop compassion fatigue. These factors mean that the healthcare industry is likely losing many of the best providers due to compassion fatigue. 

Healthcare environments are always focused on increasing efficiency, and maximizing dollars. These areas of focus come at a cost. For example, it is noted in this article that some institutions do not provide any breaks, downtime, debriefing or support when a patient passes away. Can you imaging working through a challenging (often 8-12 hour long) shift, involving providing care for multiple other patients, after experiencing the death of someone you knew, and provided care for? 

Although you may not be managing emotions related to deaths of patients on a regular basis in your position, compassion fatigue can impact anyone in a helping role. It is very possible for someone in an HR or managerial role to develop compassion fatigue, as they are providing support for employees in their office on a daily basis. Perhaps you are simply someone who people feel like they can talk and open up to. This can take a toll on you over time. If you're caring for a sick loved one outside of work, compassion fatigue can also creep up and slowly start to impact your abilities to function. Think about your risks for developing compassion fatigue in your roles at work and at home.

What does compassion fatigue look like? It looks different in everyone and can often mimic every day signs of stress. The article referenced above explains that it can feel like "an exhaustion so crippling" that no amount of sleep can impact. 

Other signs to look for for include: 

  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Hopelessness
  • Negative thoughts and outlook
  • Wanting to avoid work
  • Irritability
  • Avoidance of certain people or emotional topics
  • Loss of meaning in work
  • Physical exhaustion

This list is not complete, and there are many more symptoms to look out for in yourself and others.

Compassion fatigue is a serious health problem impacting workplace environments all over the world. Individuals with compassion fatigue cannot provide the best care or work productively and efficiently. 

The good news is that there are many actionable and practical changes that can be made to workplaces to reduce the risk of developing compassion fatigue. Stay tuned for these solutions next week!