Compassion fatigue, also known as a Secondary Traumatic Stress Disorder, is a term that refers to a gradual lessening of compassion over time. It is common among victims of trauma and individuals that work directly with victims of trauma. It was first diagnosed in nurses in the 1950's. Sufferers can exhibit several symptoms including hopelessness, a decrease in experiences of pleasure, constant stress and anxiety, and a pervasive negative attitude. This can have detrimental effects on individuals, both professionally and personally, including a decrease in productivity, the inability to focus, and the development of new feelings of incompetency and self doubt.
Journalism analysts argue that the media has caused widespread compassion fatigue in society by saturating newspapers and news shows with decontextualized images and stories of suffering. This has caused the public to become cynical, or become resistant to helping people who are suffering. Journalism analysts cite research which shows that visual images affect brain activity in demonstrable and measurable ways.
An early use of the term was in a 1981 US document on immigration policy In the early 1990s the news media in the United States used the term to describe the public's lack of patience, or perhaps simply the editors' lack of patience, with "the homeless problem," which had previously been presented as an anomaly or even a "crisis" which had only existed for a short time and could presumably be solved somehow. The term was also used in 1992 when Joinson used the term in a nursing magazine to describe nurses who deal with hospital emergencies. Compassion Fatigue has been studied by the field of traumatology, where it has been called the "cost of caring" for people facing emotional pain. Compassion fatigue has also been called "secondary victimization (Figley, 1982), secondary traumatic stress (Figley, 1983, 1985, 1989; Stamm, 1995; 1997), vicarious traumatization (McCann and Pearlman, 1989; Pearlman & Saakvitne, 1995), and secondary survivor (Remer and Elliott, 1988a; 1988b)". Other related conditions are "rape-related family crisis (Erickson, 1989; White & Rollins, 1981) and "proximity" effects on female partners of war veterans (Verbosky and Ryan, 1988) are related concepts." It has also been called a form of burnout. The term was also used after the 2004 Indian ocean earthquake, where commentators noted the apparent decrease in donations for other natural disasters. This also occurred during the 2005 hurricane season Another contrasting example involves the 2003 earthquake in Bam, Iran 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.
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