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October 19, 2017
Magnolia Banner News

Compassion fatigue can affect us all

By Deena Hardin
This article was published October 10, 2017 at 11:06 a.m.

“Another mass shooting” are not words that should easily roll off the tongue but, sadly, they do in the United States, a place where we are not (or shouldn’t be) at war with one another. More than 150 years after the Civil War ended, some Americans are still waging war on their fellow Americans.

There’s nothing overtly political about this war. It’s not about rights to do this or that or anyone taking away another’s rights to do this or that — except to live.

Before Sunday, October 1, in Las Vegas, the worst mass shootings in recent U.S. history, according to some sources, were:

Fort Hood, Texas, Nov. 5, 2009: 13 killed, 33 wounded. Gunman: Nidal Hasan. Motive: radical Islam.

San Bernardino, California, Dec. 2, 2015: 16 killed, 24 wounded. Gunman: Syed Farook along with his wife, Tashfeen Malik. Motive: radical Islam.

Edmond, Oklahoma, Aug. 20, 1986: 15 killed, 6 wounded. Gunman: Patrick Sherill. Motive: workplace revenge.

Austin, Texas (UT tower), Aug. 1, 1966: 18 killed, 31 wounded. Gunman: Charles Whitman. Motive: possibly mental illness (was found to have a brain tumor).

San Ysidro, California, July 19, 1984: 22 killed, 19 wounded. Gunman: James Huberty. Motive: mental illness.

Killeen, Texas (Luby’s cafeteria), Oct. 16, 1991: 24 killed, 27 wounded. Gunman: George Hennard. Motive: hatred of women, ethnic minorities.

Newtown, Connecticut (Sandy Hook Elementary), Dec. 14, 2012: 28 killed, 2 wounded. Gunman: Adam Lanza. Motive: mental illness.

Blacksburg, Virginia (VA Tech), Apr. 16, 2007: 33 killed, 17 wounded. Gunman: Seung-Hui Cho. Motive: mental illness.

Orlando, Florida (Pulse Nightclub), June 12, 2016: 49 killed, 58+ wounded. Gunman: Omar Mateen. Motive: terrorism, hatred.

The latest mass shooting went straight to #1 on the list of the worst, with 58 killed and more than 500 wounded. There has only been some speculation about Stephen Paddock’s motive, but I’m pretty sure I know what it is. It doesn’t take a criminologist, a profiler, or a psychiatrist to figure it out.

Ironically, according to what I came across, there were two mass shootings that were far worse (one in the late 1800s, one in the early 1900s) — one which involved the slaughter of Hispanics, the other of African-Americans — but they aren’t usually considered noteworthy.

No matter the “reasons” given for these attacks, I believe that mental illness is at the core of every one of them. Hatred, terrorism, racism, the need for revenge — they’re all mental illnesses. I have to believe that because I believe most people are essentially good or at least don’t set out to do their fellow human beings egregious harm unless there is something terribly wrong going on in their heads. Call me Pollyanna.

There is no such thing as a religion which foments murder — not one, no sir. “Radicalized” Muslims are no longer practicing Islam, which teaches peace, obeying God (Allah to them), and loving one another — much like Christianity. “Radicalized” Christians exist, too. Much evil has been done in the name of Christianity by those who felt it was their job, rather than God’s, to be judge and jury.

If hearing about all the mass shootings makes you feel angry, tired, or depressed, you’re not alone.

Feeling empathy and compassion for others can lead to what’s called compassion fatigue, or secondary traumatic stress (STS), which is something first responders, medical personnel, attorneys, and social workers can succumb to more readily than anyone. The rest of us aren’t immune, though.

Those who study compassion fatigue say we may feel a disconnect from our own lives, from our families, and begin to feel overwhelmed, anxious, or even angry. There are many possible side effects to being too “plugged in” to news tragic events. Because we feel the need to but can’t be there to help, our emotions can take us on a roller coaster ride that leaves us feeling ill.

In the aftermath of September 11, 2001, I remember getting that sick feeling from watching footage of the planes hitting the towers over and over and over. It was everywhere, no matter what channel one turned to on the television, no matter what site one checked on the internet. Nowadays, it seems to be a similar situation but the shootings are all in different places, and, for the most part, they’re not acts of terrorism. Just take a look at what’s considered to have been motivation for each of the heinous acts listed above.

Health officials and workers have been saying for decades that more needs to be done to identify and help those with mental illness. Sometimes I wonder how much more it will take for that to become reality.

In the meantime, there are things we can do to help with compassion fatigue. Taking a break from work (especially for those who work with or care for victims), physical exercise, recreational activities, and maintaining a network of support from colleagues to family and pets. There are a few other things that come to mind.

Turn off the TV. Log off the computer. Go outside. Breathe in. Let it out. Repeat.

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