Caring for the Caregiver in National Preparedness Month
In support of National Preparedness Month 2011, we’d like to remember all those who work so tirelessly to help better the lives of the children and families affected by exposure to violence. What better reminder of this than the 10th Anniversary of 9/11 – a time to reflect on the selfless actions of firefighters, police, parents, and individuals seeking to serve lives devastated by this tragic event. Other individuals are administrators, parents, clinicians, professors, emergency responders, or community members who spend a great deal of time everyday serving survivors in a wide variety of ways.
These caregivers spend so much time working with survivors that they often forget to care for themselves. This problem is called secondary traumatic stress disorder, more commonly known as compassion fatigue. It has been defined as the gradual decrease of compassion/concern over time with symptoms such as stress, nervousness, and negativity; some of the same symptoms suffered by the trauma survivors they work with. Eventually, if this problem is left untreated, it can severely harm the caregiver’s own mental health and their ability to continue to work and help survivors.
A recent article, “Local professional extends helping hand to fellow caregivers,” documents the story of social services professional, Christa Donnelly. With 30 years of service under her belt, everything in her job had become a struggle. She failed to recognize the signs and symptoms in herself until she attended an information session about compassion fatigue. According to this service veteran, “the best way to describe compassion fatigue is this: If you still love your job despite the above symptoms [headaches, anxiety, etc] chances are you have compassion fatigue.” With the newfound awareness about her symptoms, she has learned to practice self-care techniques such as time management and professional boundaries, while continuing to work in a high stress environment and emergency situations. Today, she has become an advocate for self-care and works to help others recognize and prevent their own compassion fatigue, using strategies she learned by completing a Compassion Fatigue Train-the-Trainer Program.
Once people become aware of the dangers of compassion fatigue, it’s important to provide practical solutions and resources to address the problem both in the present situation and even before it starts. Prevention strategies must be culturally competent and appropriate for the individual’s needs.
Below are some resources to help caregivers experiencing this weariness start to heal and cope:
This is a recent presentation from the FEMA Higher Education Conference 2011. It provides a great overview of the meaning of compassion fatigue, signs, symptoms, and how to address it.
The Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project
This site provides a variety of resources on the subject such as stress tests and further suggested reading.
The Cost of Caring: Secondary Traumatic Stress and the Impact of Working with High-Risk Children and Families
This is a free course for helping people understand secondary traumatic stress, provides some self care strategies, and shows how you can get further involved.