By: Jamie Lee
There is a danger lurking in the world of animal rescue. It’s called compassion fatigue and it’s ending the careers, and in some cases, lives of animal care professionals.
Compassion fatigued is emotional exhaustion, caused by the stress of caring for traumatized or suffering animals or people. It is also known as “secondary-traumatic stress disorder” and can lead to depression and thoughts of suicide.
Dr. Sophia Yin was a 48-year-old veterinary behaviorist and best selling author. She was respected as an authority in the world of dog training. Dr. Yin committed suicide in 2014 and her suffering is not unusual. A mental health survey for veterinarians revealed that one in six of them have contemplated suicide.
Veterinarians are not the only ones susceptible to compassion fatigue. A recent study of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine reveals that animal rescue workers have a suicide rate of 5.3 in 1 million workers. This is the highest suicide rate among American workers; a rate shared only by firefighters and police officers. The national suicide average for American workers is 1.5 per 1 million.
The very thing that makes animal care professionals great at their work – their empathy, dedication and love of animals – makes them vulnerable. So what can people do to protect themselves?
The first step is to recognize when you’re in trouble. Compassion fatigue has many symptoms:
- You feel isolated from family and friends.
- You have problems relating to your co-workers or the public.
- You may lose your temper, snap at people, be aggressive or uncooperative.
- You may notice a drop in your productivity.
- You may feel exhausted or have frequent health problems.
- You may have difficulty sleeping or breathing.
- You may start abusing substances.
- You may feel hopeless or cynical.
The combination of these symptoms can lead to the loss of many talented and valuable professionals. In order to prevent burnout, it’s important to have a support system in place and practice self care.
Here’s some tools you can use that will help you avoid compassion fatigue.
- Acknowledge your feelings. Share with a trusted friend or keep a journal.
- Eat a healthy diet and avoid sugar and alcohol.
- Hang out with friends that are not in animal work.
- Do yoga.
Meditation is a very important element in the system of Reiki. It helps us see the world with our heart. For the animal care professional, it just may save their life.
If you want to learn how to heal your compassionate heart, watch my Facebook page (Jamie Lee-Animal Bonds) for upcoming classes and activities.