In a comprehensive report published by the Mental Health Foundation measuring the state of the UK’s mental health, research undertaken with 2,290 people across the UK highlighted the fragile environment in which so many of us are simply surviving, rather than thriving:
- Just 13% of adults live with good mental health.
- People over the age of 55 experience better mental health than average.
- People aged 55 and above are the most likely to take positive steps to help themselves – spending time with friends and family, going for a walk, spending more time on interests, getting enough sleep, eating healthily and learning new things.
- More than 4 in 10 people have experienced depression.
- Over a quarter of people have experienced panic attacks.
- Almost 3 in 4 people living in the lowest household income bracket have experienced a mental health problem, compared to 6 in 10 of the highest household income bracket.
- 85% of people out of work have experienced a mental health problem, compared to two thirds of people in work, and just over half of people who have retired.
- Nearly two-thirds say that they have experienced a mental health problem at some point in their lives. This rises to 7 in every 10 women, young adults aged 18-34 and people living alone
When it hurts to care
We’ve talked in previous blogs about the increased prevalence of mental health issues, but there is little awareness and understanding of the very real issue of compassion fatigue. Compassion fatigue is a form of occupational stress in the medical, healthcare and veterinary professions, also referred to as secondary traumatisation – the patient’s traumatic experience triggers a response on multiple levels in the carer. We reach a point where we either care too much or too little; we become over-involved in cases, or else become detached from them. The condition affects empathic, compassionate, loving and caring people – those attracted to caring roles have an innate wish to care for others before themselves, inevitably leading to a lack of on-going self-care.
Empathy and compassion are necessary in the medical, healthcare and veterinary professions, yet you need to remain the professional – you feel that you can’t show emotion so you don’t cry over a difficult case; you ignore your feelings, push them down and simply get on with the job.
It’s believed that the painful symptoms of compassion fatigue result from controlling empathy while listening to or seeing traumatic events. So you may find yourself driving home in tears or beginning to feel numb when another traumatic event occurs – it’s not that you don’t care, but rather that you can’t care anymore.
The signs of compassion fatigue can often go unnoticed and vary between people and situations. However, psychologists agree that any or all of the following may indicate the presence of compassion fatigue:
- Sleep disturbances/nightmares
- Feeling powerless
- Dizziness/fainting spells
- Impaired hearing
Taking care of yourself
It’s crucial to develop strategies for coping with the emotional burden if you are to avoid compassion fatigue and burnout. Tools and techniques you may wish to consider include:
- Talk through difficult situations with colleagues, friends, and family. Create a supportive environment at work to debrief after challenging cases or difficult clients.
- Don’t be afraid to show your emotions and express how you are feeling.
- Ask others how they are feeling after a difficult situation.
- Create a routine of reflection – ask yourself and your team what’s worked well today/this week and what hasn’t?
- Be kind to yourself, reflect on progress you have already made.
- Don’t ruminate. Obsessing over perceived problems and running events over and over in your mind solves nothing and is one of the biggest causes of stress. Learn to occupy your mind with more constructive pursuits and always look for the positives.
- Surround yourself with positive people.
- Clarify and set your personal boundaries.
- Learn to say no to other people’s requests, if appropriate, in order to reserve enough time and energy to live calmly and avoid over-committing.
- Look after yourself – eat well, keep hydrated and exercise regularly.
- Organise your life so that you become proactive as opposed to reactive.
- Choose your battles and control where you spend your energy.
Sadly, compassion fatigue remains all too common, so if you do recognise any of the signs, please remember help is out there. And know that asking for help is not an admission of weakness; it’s a sign of strength.
If you would like to take control of your life and career, my online personal development programme MyLifeStrategy can help you to overcome the personal and professional challenges you face on a daily basis and learn practical skills and techniques to make a real difference to you and your life.
I’ve developed the Robust Resilience and Thriving Under Pressure modules specifically to support professionals in overcoming stressors and thriving in a pressurised environment.