Compassion Fatigue in Animal Rescue

Compassion fatigue is caused by the stress of caring for people, or pets, who have been traumatized or are suffering and in need. It’s also known as STSD, or secondary-traumatic stress disorder, which is similar to PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).

I was saddened to learn that animal rescue workers have a suicide rate, on par with firefighters and police officers, at 5.3 per 1 million workers. This is one of the highest rates among American workers, according the Journal of Preventative Medicine.

Caring for creatures that are constantly in need, can take its toll. This is especially true for the many shelter volunteers who often have other jobs they must also manage. Workers may be inclined to focus on the one they couldn’t save, despite the dozens that were adopted into families during the month.

Most shelters do encourage their employees and volunteers to practice stress management and self-care. They remind their staff that saving even one life is important, and to accept that they may not be able to save them all. Maintaining such a high level of sympathy and empathy for the pets, while maintaining a healthy, positive attitude, can be a challenge. I think one of the best ways to meet this challenge is by experiencing gratitude.

PsychCentral lays out what compassion fatigue look like. The following list describes some common symptoms:

Depression or feelings of sadness
Insomnia or hypersomnia
Experiencing frequent flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, or nightmares
Fatigue or low energy
Anger or irritability
Isolation from others
Appetite changes
Loss of interest in things that once brought you pleasure
Feelings of guilt
Lack of motivation
Relationship conflicts
Feeling empty or hopeless
Work issues (e.g., chronic tardiness)
Feeling numb
Low self-esteem
Poor concentration
Body complaints (e.g., headaches)
Unhealthy coping skills (e.g., substance abuse)
Negative worldview
Suicidal thoughts