It’s time to ‘Help the Helpers’

Across the country we are hearing from practitioners from across the social sector who are sharing that they are tired, exhausted and somewhat overwhelmed. Over the last 18 months, teachers, police officers, social workers, community volunteers, carers and of course parents have relentlessly kept going –caring and serving other people as best they can. It’s understandable that this has impacted on energy levels.

Many of us of are feeling depleted, yet struggling to understand why this is so. After all, so many things in our lives are returning back to how they once were before the pandemic: our social calendars are refilling, children’s after school activities are back on and we can reconnect with distant family members. But whilst part of us welcomes the reopening of our communities, we are also seeing the return of the same expectations (if not more) that were placed upon us pre pandemic, whether that’s teachers being expected to achieve the same outcomes with children who might have slipped behind academically or those experiencing mental health concerns, or parents who are expected to be back in the office for work while juggling their children’s trips to the Covid testing center as cases rise again. For many, we need to acknowledge that life has been hard and continues to be so. Most of us don’t want to let people down, but we also might need to revise how much we can mentally and emotionally hold as human beings, especially if we are continuing to support others in their recovery.

Our diminished energy levels may be a result of compassion fatigue; when we are helping so many others through the complexity in their lives, our personal compassion slowly dwindles. This is particularly true if you feel that you are constantly giving to others yet that support is not reciprocated when you need it. As helping professionals we understand that our role is to help others, but that doesn’t mean we are immune to vulnerability, and there are times when support and care is needed. It’s hard for us to give to others that which we are not getting for ourselves.

Further to this Covid has significantly exposed complexity in the lives of those we support. Whilst we endeavor to maintain professional relationships, we also need to acknowledge that we are emotional human beings. When others go through trauma, we can sometimes be affected by secondary trauma, which can be experienced when an individual is closely exposed to people who have themselves been traumatised. The stress from this can negatively impact job performance which can lead to adverse outcomes not only for the first responders, but for those they seek to help.

It is also important to recognise that there may have been times over the last eighteen months when you have needed to implement decisions that go strongly against your moral judgement. An example would be clinicians not having been able to allow relatives to sit with loved ones in hospital in their final hours. These decisions play heavily in people’s minds and can lead to a form of ‘moral injury’, which can in turn lead to burnout.

At KCA we think its really important that we notice all of these dynamics at play, and that we act now to help the helpers. Through supporting our helpers to recover we can reduce long term sickness, reduce demand on employee assistance programs, but perhaps most importantly retain highly talented employees whose biggest challenge – right now – may be the emotional fallout that comes from being empathic, caring human beings.