Tons of people in the United States and beyond cope with moderate to severe mental health disorders. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide. In addition, 1 in 13 people globally suffer from anxiety. Almost 75% of people with mental disorders remain untreated, making mental illnesses one of the most prevalent health issues worldwide. It goes without saying that the impact can be widely felt by those who surround them.
If your partner is struggling with their mental health on a daily basis it can feel like you’re living with the ghost of that illness.
For people that support a loved one with a mental illness, the impact of that disorder can be extremely difficult to deal with.The stress resulting from consistently supporting a loved one can leave you feeling drained and exhausted. This is what psychologists refer to as compassion fatigue, a condition that can be as debilitating as the illness your partner is battling, if you don’t take steps to prevent it.
What is Compassion Fatigue?
Compassion fatigue is a condition that traditionally was experienced by professionals in the healthcare field. However, this phenomenon can happen to anyone that assumes a caregiver role. For families coping with mental illnesses such as depression or anxiety, a caregiver who is often thinking of the best ways to support their partner can sometimes neglect their own self-care. At some point they may feel like their tank of support is running on empty. They may find themselves increasingly unable to offer the support their partner needs because of their own drained emotions.
Symptoms of Compassion Fatigue
The American Institute of Stress indicates the following as some of the symptoms associated with compassion fatigue:
- Isolation and loss of morale
- Sleep disturbance
- Emotional intensity increases
- Cognitive ability decreases
- Behavior and judgment impaired
- Low energy and negative mood
- Loss of self-worth and emotional modulation
- Identity, worldview, and spirituality impacted
- Loss of hope and meaning
If your partner is dealing with a persistent mental disorder, compassion fatigue may sneak up on you when you least expect it. You may find yourself exhibiting some of the symptoms mentioned above and it may be difficult to continue supporting your loved one as he or she copes with their condition on a day-to-day basis.
Difference Between Compassion Fatigue and Burnout
According to the American Institute of Stress, compassion fatigue has similar symptoms to burnout, but originate from a different source. Burnout occurs as a result of cumulative stress and exhaustion, while compassion fatigue is a direct result of feeling empathetic for someone who is going through a traumatic event. While burnout occurs after long periods of frustration, compassion fatigue can occur rapidly if you are exposed to someone else’s stressful situation.
When caring for someone who is dealing with anxiety or other mental illnesses, it is possible to experience compassion fatigue and burnout if you devote much of your time to caring for them or helping them deal with their condition. This is why it is critical that you take time to decompress and refuel so that you can avoid experiencing symptoms of both your partner’s condition and mitigate compassion fatigue.
Prioritize Yourself to Avoid Compassion Fatigue
The key to battling compassion fatigue is awareness.
Being aware that you’re stretched thin can help you take the necessary steps to reassess your own needs. By doing so, you are also creating a scenario in which you can be an even more effective support provider for your loved one. While you should be there to care for your loved one as much as possible, it is just as important that your needs for rest and support are met as well.
Consider the following thoughts to clear your head when you’re experiencing compassion fatigue:
- Blame the situation, not the person. It is not their fault they are sick
- Remind yourself that you are doing the best you can as a caregiver to your loved ones
- Understand that the pain and exhaustion you feel is normal
- Remember and remind yourself about all the good things in your life, your partner, and your future together
Mental illness is a pervasive and exhausting force in someone’s life. Compassion fatigue, however, can be just as draining when you’re caring for a loved one in addition to the other responsibilities that life throws at you.
Be mindful of checking in with yourself routinely to avoid compassion fatigue so that you can continue to support your loved one to the best of your ability. Exhaustion is no one’s friend.