What is meant by the term ‘compassion fatigue’? How has the discourse of compassion fatigue been employed within debates about television news coverage of suffering or another example of your...

What is meant by the term ‘compassion fatigue’?

How has the discourse of compassion fatigue been employed within debates about television news coverage of suffering or another example of your choice?

 

Expert Answers
boomer-sooner eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Compassion fatigue is a mental state of exhaustion or extreme tension which occurs from prolonged exposure to stimuli stress or suffering of other entities. These entities can include people, animals or the environment. This prolonged exposure can lead to secondary traumatic stress. Symptoms of compassion fatigue include lack of self-care, apathy, isolation and substance abuse. The person becomes stressed to the point of immobility and inability to cope. The stress is brought on by a sense of hopelessness from the situation.

The media is blamed by many people for inducing compassion fatigue among the general population. The headlines, largely involving tragedy or injustice, are designed to grab the reader’s attention and elicit an emotional response, drawing the person to the outlet therefore driving sales. However, the continued use of this tactic has had the negative effect of creating malaise in the public. The 24/7 access to technology subjects the user to almost constant stream of news coverage, most of it polarizing. Studies have shown compassion fatigue is situational and not a personality trait, meaning almost everyone is capable of caring too much.  However, it is noted compassion is a finite resource that must be replenished.

Susan Moeller argues in her 1999 book Compassion Fatigue: How the Media Sell Disease, Famine, War and Death that the media is essentially using compassion as a drug, hooking the user with photographs or accounts of mass suffering. As the user becomes immune to the tragedy, more graphic suffering is needed to generate the same compassion response. She argues that what was once taboo information will be readily distributed to the consumer. Her arguments have some validity, for example the body of a small child, the victim of drowning, was shown repeatedly on the world news outlets to drive media stories about refugees.