Compassion Fatigue

The effects of disasters can be long-lasting.

Posted Sep 20, 2017

tatlin/Pixabay
Source: tatlin/Pixabay

Disasters almost seemed endless over the summer. Multiple hurricanes in the United States, and an earthquake in Mexico. We feel sorry for the victims of each disaster, but our reservoir of compassion is drained. We might all be experiencing compassion fatigue.

Compassion fatigue is the emotional exhaustion from knowing about the suffering of others. Part of the emotional exhaustion comes from a sense of helplessness. This involves feeling overwhelmed and not knowing what to do.

Although our capacity for compassion may be time-limited, the effects of disasters are not. The physical effects of disasters do not end once the hurricane passes and power is restored. Homes and businesses may sustain long-lasting damage. The lasting psychological effects of disasters may include post-traumatic distress disorder.

In 2011, I traveled to New Orleans with my church’s youth group on a relief mission. This was six years after Hurricane Katrina. Like many, I assumed that New Orleans had recovered from Katrina by 2011. Yet, the house that we were to repair was still badly damaged. We installed drywall, primed and painted, and installed flooring. The homeowner, who was living with relatives, was grateful because she had lost hope about living in her home again.

What can we do to stop compassion fatigue? Knowing that we are helping others may energize us. Here are some practical ideas to help others:

  • Financial help. Contribute to relief organizations that have low operating costs and direct your funds to helping people.
  • Direct help. Volunteer with established relief organizations.
  • Global help. Slow the global climate change that creates hurricanes by taking steps to reduce your carbon footprint. And support legislation and legislators that take climate science seriously.

This help is needed now. And six months from now. And six years from now and beyond.

References

Adams, R. E., Boscarino, J. A., & Figley, C. R. (2006). Compassion fatigue and psychological distress among social workers: A validation study. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 76, 103-108. DOI: 10.1037/0002-9432.76.1.103

Scott, J. C., Matt, G. E., Wrocklage, K. M., Crnich, C., Jordan, J., Southwick, S. M., ... & Schweinsburg, B. C. (2015). A quantitative meta-analysis of neurocognitive functioning in posttraumatic stress disorder. Psychological Bulletin, 141, 105-140. DOI: 10.1037/a003803