It has been challenging to wrap my head around the past few weeks. As a seasoned health care professional with over 35 years in acute care environments, I thought I’d seen it all. Yet, here I sit striving to reconcile the impact of consecutive mass casualty events, and their devastating personal and emotional toll. With the average person now forced to deal with compassion fatigue as the new norm, what is the impact for a workforce dedicated to addressing the human condition. Intentional action must be directed toward bolstering and self-protecting for the long haul, otherwise we risk shutting down.
How Did I Get Here?
Change is the only real constant. I adore the Talking Heads, and can hear David Byrne’s voice echoing in my ear, ‘How did I get here’? Thinking about the flow of events that touched my own practice have been fascinating. When I graduated in 1983 there were no Diagnostic Related Groups (DRGs) and managed care was in utero. Patient Zero and a slow government response gave way to the AIDs epidemic; a generation of human beings stigmatized and lost to an unforgiving virus. Crack cocaine began its wrath and gang violence escalated sharply.
One decade later domestic terrorism landed in the US, and has not eased up. Deinstitutionalization led to upticks in homelessness and a mental health population that challenged an already overburdened system; insufficient resources, beds, and programs. The availability of automatic and semi-automatic weapons, plus their accessories have led to gun violence of grand proportions; 307 mass casualty shootings in 2018 alone (and counting) and hundreds of deaths.involving weapons that become mass casualty events are startling, but the frequency of these events is even more disturbing. Anger and rage across populations are giving way to historic levels of abuse, assault, and intolerance. Who knows what will come next, and the question beckons; how do we deal with it?
5 Lessons to Self-Protect
Prior blogs have provided strategies to address the occupational hazards of traumatic events for health and behavioral health professionals, including mass violence. Yet, additional strategic guidance is warranted in light of recent events:
1. Let feelings flow: Being in the biz makes us no less human. We are empathic to the human experience, and especially vulnerable to experiencing strong feelings. What we feel about mass casualty events may surprise and overwhelm us. The potential for compassion fatigue should never be minimized. Let the feelings flow to keep from bottling them up.
2. Engage and expend your rage: Speaking of letting emotions build up, find outlets to expend the energy. It may be a local or national initiative, volunteering or supporting populations in need. Perhaps you prefer an extra work out, hike, or even a dance off. Do whatever works!
3. Stop, think, then commit: By the same token, it can be easy to overcommit and attend every rally, volunteer for, or donate to every event. Be mindful of your actions and save some energy for yourself, as well as those near and dear. Simply spending time with friends can be restorative.
4. Limit device notifications: In this internet age, information overload is easy, especially when it streams from multiple websites or apps. Set computer and mobile device notifications accordingly to allow you to focus on other priorities. Take charge of what occupies your time!
5. Seek support: Health and behavioral health professionals intervene with clients amid the best and worst of times. We have indomitable strength, but can easily shut down. Professional boundaries safeguard our management of interactions and situations, but don’t make us invincible.
What strategies work for you? Add how you combat compassion fatigue to this list.
Remember, nobody has an endless reserve to help. That is far too great a burden to bear, particularly when dealing continuously with life, death, and the reality of the human circumstance.
Until next time, stay resilient
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