Gloomy and Guilty About It

If you’re feeling this way — exhausted, indifferent, culpable — rest assured, you’re not alone. In the face of so many crises in a row, we’re all exhausted. News coverage diminished for Hurricane Maria after Irma and Harvey, but FiveThirtyEight found that the number of people seeking information on Hurricane Maria also dropped significantly after Irma, as measured by Google searches.

This may be due to “disaster fatigue,” when prolonged exposure to news coverage of disasters causes potential donors or volunteers to lose motivation. To try and understand how to fight it, we can look to its more acute cousin, “compassion fatigue,” which is exactly what it sounds like. Also called “secondary trauma syndrome,” it’s a psychological condition commonly found in caregiving and direct relief professions and characterized by withdrawal, isolation, and a sense of apathy or helplessness.

Patricia Smith, founder of the Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project and a certified Compassion Fatigue Specialist (yes, that’s a thing) leads workshops with caregivers to help mitigate it. I asked her if the barrage of disasters could be inducing a kind of mass compassion fatigue.

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