It is very often that we neglect the mental needs of a caregiver in everyday life. Until very recent, it has been paid almost no attention to this case. A person, be it a nurse or any other medical worker, who provides care to patients, and, for that matter, often in very severe states, used to be treated more like machines, which had their functions and had to provide those functions regardless of their psychological state. Providing care to patients was treated just like any other task, it was expected to be fulfilled mechanically and on high level. However, there are certain factors, which make the picture much more complex. When providing care to people with severe diseases, nurses, in one way or another, take the process personally. When the patient dies, it is very hard to avoid feeling guilty, at least partially guilty for the case. A caregiver feels, that he/she could have done better to avoid the death or, at least, to help the patient live longer. On the other hand, patients and members of their family need and expect some sort of compassion of the caregiver. It is not only the mechanical fulfillments of the instruction, which is expected of a caregiver. It is something more. It may be a warm talk, an understanding smile, a kind word or, at least, attentive listening, that a patient, and, often, the members of his family, require from a nurse. Moreover, normally a nurse does provide such compassion. However, with the time the caregiver starts being exhausted in terms of his/her emotional resources, and feeling this sort of compassion, which is so important for the patients and their family members, is becoming a more and more rare phenomenon. The caregiver becomes a kind of indifferent to the problems of the patient. Consequently, this inflicts the quality of work. The amount of compassion, putting it in simple terms, which each caregiver has, is limited. One can have it larger or smaller, but it is limited, just like any other resource. It may last for a longer or shorter period of time, but it has got the end to it. Basically, when the resource is exhausted, this is when a nurse starts having a syndrome of compassion fatigue. This term is relevantly young and is being referred to different professionals, who have got to display compassion to their clients, because of the peculiarities of their work.
Compassion fatigue, started being recognized and, therefore, researched, in the middle of the XX century. However, there are no clinical treatments for this state. However, there are certain ways to prevent it. Prior to preventing this state, it has got to be recognized. There are a few symptoms, which indicate us at compassion fatigue. One example of such symptoms, as cited in “Program to Combat 'Compassion Fatigue'” (85), is avoiding a patient, who has got serious problems. A nurse may believe him to be a difficult case and, therefore, start avoiding such a patient in order to protect himself/herself from the stress. The other sign of compassion fatigue is providing little care to the patients. In real fact, all the due work may be done, however emotional component is just not there. The caregiver works automatically and the patient does not receive the compassion he/she seeks so much. This influences psychological state of the patient, who starts feeling disregarded and abandoned, and that can easily have negative influence on their overall state. Another symptom of compassion fatigue is irritability. A caregiver, who may never before be known for any sort of irritability or aggression towards his/her colleagues and/or patients, may all of a sudden start displaying such signs. However, the symptoms may also not be related to the person’s professional activity. Often compassion fatigue expresses itself in insomnia or lack of self-confidence.
Therefore, as can be seen from the examples above, compassion fatigue is a very serious issue, which needs to be taken into consideration by both the caregiver and the whole staff. It is important to timely recognize the symptoms and take necessary measures; however, it is even more important to prevent compassion fatigue. Among known methods of preventing compassion fatigue are staff meetings, where the emotional difficulties of each member are being discussed (Gupta & Woodman, 2010). Breathing exercises and other relaxation techniques are also helpful. It is very important for a person not to be left alone with this problem. According to Huggard (2003), social support, provided by colleagues and other members of the team, also appears to be a very effective preventive method for compassion fatigue.
For a caregiver, it is very important to be aware of this problem and always be ready to resist it, to take preventive measures and accept the help of the colleagues. It is also very important to keep in mind the fact, that there are cases when the caregiver just cannot win against the patient’s disease; however it is not the reason for failing to provide the help required.
For any medical worker, especially for the nurses, it is necessary to remember about the likelihood of compassion fatigue or professional burnout and not to allow the resource of compassion dry out. It is critically important both for one’s personal and professional life, both for the quality of work, done by him, and the quality of life led by him. In case, the likelihood of this problem is taken seriously by a caregiver, his career can come to an end very abruptly, and the quality of his life may turn to be very low.