Working with young people with suicidality can be both professionally and personally challenging for practitioners, and has been identified as one of the most stressful parts of a mental health practitioner’s job (SANE Australia, 2013).
Regularly engaging with and supporting young people with suicidality and perhaps trauma can place practitioners at risk of experiencing compassion fatigue (also known as vicarious trauma) (Figley, 1995). Symptoms of compassion fatigue can include (Figley; Pross, 2006):
- Feeling overwhelmed, physically & emotionally exhausted
- Anxious and/or irritable
- Trouble sleeping
- Disconnect and disengage (personally or professionally)
- Change to sense of personal safety & control
- Apathy, cynicism, pessimism
- Loss of meaning and hope
- Forgetting why you do your job
- Questioning one’s professional competence & effectiveness
- Having nightmares or disturbing thoughts
To protect oneself from compassion fatigue or burnout, it is important practitioners (Pross, 2006; SANE, 2013):
- Engage in debriefing
- Participate in regular professional supervision
- Attend suicide prevention training.
- Access the Employee Assistance Program (if available)
- Foster self-awareness to identify when they are affected by a young person’s suicidality
- Avoid less helpful behaviours, such as alcohol or drug misuse
- Implement self-care strategies
Self-care should take care of physical, emotional, social, spiritual and intellectual needs. Physical needs can include exercising regularly, eating a healthy, balanced diet and getting enough sleep. Emotional needs consist of finding ways to accept feelings, and allowing emotions to be expressed. It can include talking about feelings, using a journal, music and finding ways to laugh. Maintaining social contact and support from family and friends is essential to meet social needs. Spiritual needs don’t necessarily refer to religion; it is a sense of belief in something and often provides a different perspective on things. It could include prayer and religious beliefs, meditation, chanting, reading motivational literature and quiet walks. Intellectual needs are comprised of two aspects; challenging oneself cognitively and managing own thought patterns. Examples of challenging oneself can include reading, writing, pursuing hobbies and doing short courses. It is also important to pay attention to managing thought patterns and how you react to situations in life. Reframing unhelpful or negative thoughts and using positive affirmations can be helpful to effectively manage stress.
The module Worker Self-care can assist practitioners to develop and maintain good self-care practices.