Researchers studying compassion fatigue seek responses from first responders

Disaster mental health experts with the Tulane University School of Social Work seek to further understand the emotional impact of COVID-19 on responders


By Laura French

NEW ORLEANS — Researchers studying compassion fatigue seek responses from first responders for a survey to better understand the emotional impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The survey was developed by disaster mental health experts Leia Saltzman, Tonya Hansel and Charles Figley from the Tulane University School of Social Work, according to a university news release. Figley, the director of the Tulane Traumatology Institute, was among the group of scholars who first coined the term "compassion fatigue."

“Compassion fatigue is related to the concept of burnout. It is something we see sometimes in caregivers and emergency responders, particularly in disaster scenarios," Saltzman, an assistant professor, said in a statement. “Most often compassion fatigue can be thought of as an emotional exhaustion that manifests as the reduced ability of a caregiver or responder to engage in empathy and/or compassion for the survivor they are working with."

The researchers seek input from first responders, doctors, nurses, mental health professionals and other front-line workers who have responded or provided care during the pandemic. 

Figley, Hansel and Saltzman developed the survey in the early days of the pandemic, anticipating the psychological and emotional toll it would take on front-line personnel. 

“The goals of most studies of this nature are to better understand the human condition so that we can make recommendations of how to improve outcomes,” Saltzman stated. “COVID-19 has presented a new and unique circumstance, and so getting more information about what places first responders at risk for, or protects them from, compassion fatigue in this context is important because we have never been here before.”

Saltzman added that she expects the study to conclude with two sets of recommendations.

“The first would focus on what needs to be done to reduce negative outcomes such as compassion fatigue and burnout," Saltzman stated. "The second would focus on what might help to promote positive outcomes such as resilience and post-traumatic growth.”

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