Caregivers and workers in the health and social services sectors were able to get some things off their chests last week.
On April 24 & 25, more than 30 people gathered at the Chief Lamalice Complex on the Hay River Reserve to talk about compassion fatigue and its prevalence in the social, health, mental health and justice sectors.
The two-day workshop was part of National Victims of Crime Awareness Week.
The term ‘compassion fatigue’ refers to the feelings of professionals who are regularly subjected to secondary traumas from clients and patients. Over time, those interactions can manifest into behaviours in the professional person, like avoidance, anxiety, hopelessness, helplessness, and mental, physical and emotional exhaustion or fatigue.
It can greatly affect the services that clients access, and that is why people need to notice what’s happening before it’s too late.
The workshop was led by Doreen Reid, a consultant on fetal alcohol syndrome disorder and co-ordinator for community justice and community policing with the Department of Justice.
The workshop just scratches the surface of the issue, said Reid. “Compassion fatigue has been happening forever in people’s lives and work, but it’s a relatively new area of study.”
The more traumas that a person is exposed to and the more caring a person, the greater the need to debrief, said Reid.
Having a network of caring individuals is necessary, as it a list of go-to activities that can take a person’s mind to a different place.
Bobbi Hamilton, the co-ordinator of the Hay River Youth Justice Committee, said she would take the information and coping strategies back to the volunteer board since it often deals with young individuals with difficult past or current circumstances.
“I think it could be very useful,” said Hamilton. “One of the things I find the most stressful is dealing with youth who don’t have strong support systems. Frustration can build and you can often feel there is so much you want to do, but can’t. Often it wears you down and you can wonder, ‘Why am I in this?’”
The mental, emotional and physical state of compassion fatigue was only identified in the 1990s, said Reid, noting awareness has been directed towards it since then.
She said that’s part of the reason it’s now more integral to practise good work-life balance and other strategies in order to prevent compassion fatigue and burnout.
“You have to be well if you are going to help others,” she said. “Many people don’t have prior compassion fatigue training before entering their jobs. Many times we don’t get the training we need beforehand.”
Still, jobs on the front lines can be incredibly rewarding, said Hamilton.
“Positive feedback helps,” she said. “I was having a hard day once and then I got a call from a girl thanking us for helping her to turn her life around. That’s worth it.”
— Angele Cano