The tragic suicide of Dr. Sophia Yin in 2014 brought the issue of compassion fatigue to the front and center of the animal-related professional and volunteer communities. When I ran a suburban shelter in the early 90s, it was not uncommon to have both volunteers and employees suddenly drop out of sight for extended periods of time. Nobody really talked about it back then, but everyone who worked there knew about that breaking point, and we all did our best to support and encourage people to take care of themselves.
Now, of course, it’s much easier to have a discussion about compassion fatigue in the animal care community. But that increased openness often doesn’t benefit the many advocates and professionals who feel the weight of all of those innocent lives on their shoulders and are compelled to work far beyond the boundaries of their own emotional and physical well-being.
If you work with animals, you should get into the habit of checking in with yourself to see if you’re feeling any of the symptoms of compassion fatigue (also known as “secondary traumatic stress disorder”, or STSD), including apathy, poor self-care, repressed emotions, isolation, substance abuse, nightmares, and difficulty concentrating. If you are a business owner or supervisor, be on the lookout for absenteeism, lack of teamwork, increased aggression, and high levels of negativity. (You can see a more comprehensive list of symptoms on the Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project website.)
Self-compassion is imperative. As Jessica Dolce says, “We need to be well to do good,” and it’s important to give yourself permission to take a break when you need it. Subscribe to a meditation program or follow guided meditations and exercises to help keep yourself on a more even keel on a day-to-day basis.
If you feel like you are spiraling out of control in spite of regular self-caretaking practices, PLEASE SEEK PROFESSIONAL HELP!
If you don’t have a regular therapist or counselor, call the University of Tennessee-Knoxville veterinary social work helpline at 865-755-8839 Monday through Friday 10am-5pm eastern time, and they can help connect you to resources in your area. You may also email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Caring for you while you care for animals (FetchFind webcast with Jamie Migdal and Kristin Buller, MA-LCSW)
- The Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project
- Jessica Dolce
- The University of Tennessee-Knoxville Veterinary Social Work program
- Compassion Fatigue Strategies
- The Healthy Mind Platter