Mental health & wellbeing matters: ‘Compassion fatigue’

Coffee image for Film Stories' regular mental health column
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Do you have moments where you feel a little exhausted at looking out for others? We’re having a chat about it this very week…

Welcome back to the spot on our site where we chat about mental health, wellbeing, about things that may be affecting you or people around you. We’ve been running these pieces weekly for a few years now, and hopefully over the course of the series, there’s something in there that’s of use to you.

A quickly apology before we get to this week’s chat: over August, we ran the same piece in this spot on a Wednesday for two weeks, due to behind the scenes circumstances. It was a case of we were unable to get a fresh article put together, but wanted to make sure there was something here. This series is really important to us, and so disruptions are far from ideal, and thankfully the exception rather than the rule.

This week then, we’re back up and running, and chatting about ‘compassion fatigue’. It’s a tricky one to natter about this, as on the surface it feels quite cold and unpleasant: on a small scale, that you’re fed up of having to keep caring, having to keep looking out for others, having to keep an eye out for someone else, when you’re struggling to keep going yourself.

On a larger scale, I first heard the phrase used when annual telethons came around: that people were fed up of giving, and being bombarded with messages. That always reminded me of the old adage that if you tell the story of one person struggling, people are moved. Tell the story of millions, people can’t click into it as much.

I’m going to deal with the smaller, rather than the larger version, though. Because the smaller version sometimes I think comes down to a bit of self-care.

The vast majority of human beings, to some degree, I truly believe care about other human beings. Even those who pretend not to, but maybe that’s a conversation for another time. In this context though, I’ve long believed that you can’t help someone else if you don’t, to some degree, look after yourself. And that it’s really hard to consistently care for others if you’re tired, fatigued, run down, struggling. If you’re trying to help someone who consistently needs support, at some point you’re likely to snap back, or be less than perfect.

That’s generally the bit when we beat ourselves up. But human beings are imperfect beasts, aren’t we? The key word in compassion fatigue I think is ‘fatigue’. And that’s the bit we have to watch out for, and give ourselves some slack to deal with.

A small soupcon of people are just unpleasant, of course. But I do believe they’re the exception, and far, far from the norm.

You all look after yourselves and take care. Apologies for the interruption to this section a few weeks back: hopefully you’ve seen, with thanks too to the brilliant Sarah Myers, that we’re back up and running.

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