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Compassion fatigue is a term that refers to a gradual lessening of compassion over time. Compassion fatigue may occur when, due to the media saturation of stories and images of people who are suffering (e.g. images of starving children in Africa, or extended war reporting) people develop a resistance to these images or stories. As the impact of these messages lessens, their willingness to give to causes reduces.

In Health Care Professions and Caregivers

Caregivers for dependent people can also experience compassion fatigue; this can become a cause of abusive behavior in caring professions. It results from the taxing nature of showing compassion for someone whose suffering is continuous and unresolvable. One may still care for the person as required by policy, however, the natural human desire to help them is no longer there.

This phenomenon also occurs for professionals involved with long term health care. It can also occur for loved ones who have institutionalized family members. These people may develop symptoms of depression, stress, and trauma. Those who are primary care providers for patients with terminal illnesses are at a higher risk of developing these symptoms. In the medical profession, this is often described as "burnout": the more specific terms secondary traumatic stress and vicarious trauma are also used. Some professionals may be predisposed to compassion fatigue due to personal trauma.

In academic literature

In academic literature, the more technical term secondary traumatic stress disorder may be used. The term "compassion fatigue" is considered somewhat euphemistic. Compassion fatigue also carries sociological connotations, especially when used to analyse the behaviour of mass donations in response to the media response to disasters.

In Charitable Giving

Compassion fatigue can be seen in the resistance of the general public to give money to charity or other good causes due to overexposure. This is exacerbated by the increasing practice of charitable organisations requesting potential patrons bank details for ongoing monthly donations rather than one-time donations. "Overexposure" in this context refers to the repeated solicitation of donations or voluntary efforts from civilians by charitable agencies, often triggered by natural disasters, or disasters of a large scale

Some people become frustrated by constantly being solicited for donations, and feel that they are being continually "shaken down" for money.[How to reference and link to summary or text] Others would donate but they feel that they have enough problems of their own or that they are themselves more deserving of charity.[How to reference and link to summary or text]

Some become cynical about charities' fund-raising tactics and become skeptical that most of the money will ever reach the needy, but will instead be used for junkets or spent on unnecessary overheads.[How to reference and link to summary or text] In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, many were frustrated with the Red Cross's handling of donations; they believed that their donations would go to the families of the victims, when the Liberty Fund only paid out approximately 1/3rd of its receipts to families and dedicated the rest to long-term planning. [1]

See also


  • Figley, C.(1995). Compassion Fatigue. Bruner Mazel Psychosocial Stress Series.

External links

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