West Queen West CAMH Wednesday: Is there a cost to protecting, caring for and saving others? Beware of Compassion Fatigue

by Rob Sysak, January 9, 2018

Is there a cost to protecting, caring for and saving others? Beware of Compassion Fatigue

By Dr. Katy Kamkar, Clinical Psychologist at CAMH, Director at Badge of Life Canada

What happens to our helpers, who are continuously hearing, seeing or witnessing tragedies, pain and suffering while also providing care, support and protection?

Being continuously exposed to suffering and loss of life, or becoming excessively preoccupied with these things can set the stage for a condition called compassion fatigue, also known as vicarious trauma or secondary traumatic stress. The term was originally used in the 80s but has been adapted to describe this condition within medical professionals such as physicians, psychologists, nurses or emergency workers, but now we increasingly see it occurring in other helping professions such as police and first responders.

Recognizing early warning signs and seeking early intervention are important as compassion fatigue can negatively impact your personal, social and occupational functioning and increase risk for burnout and mental health conditions.

Some Warning Signs of Compassion Fatigue:

Some helpful tips for coping:


Practical self-care

Emotional self-care

Compassion fatigue can easily affect those in helping professions, and includes medical professionals, first responders, and even family caregivers. As such, facilities and organizations that employ them need to be mindful of what their employees are going through. But how can that be achieved when employees themselves might not know what they are going through? Holding customized, holistic surveys of the kind explained at www.qualtrics.com/employee-experience/360-degree-feedback/ could be one way to identify the problem, and take remedial measures such as counseling and extended off-days. At the same time, it’s important that anyone who is susceptible takes proper steps to protect themselves, and that they are mindful of the effects on their own lives. As much as we want to help others and provide nurturing care, we must also look inward and ensure that we are meeting our own mental health needs.

Thank you to all our helpers, but know you’re not alone. Helpers also need help sometimes.