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Secondary trauma impacting medical professionals and other people in ‘helping’ industries

WAFF's Megan Plotka reporting
Published: Mar. 21, 2022 at 12:51 PM CDT
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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - Inflation, the COVID-19 pandemic and the Russian invasion into Ukraine are just a few of the issues impacting Americans and some mental health professionals say it’s impacting your mental health.

Licensed independent clinical social worker Lisa Lapidus says she’s seeing more and more people experiencing ‘secondary’ or ‘vicarious’ trauma. This happens when anyone engages empathetically and continuously with people who are survivors of traumatic incidents.

It’s really common in people in the medical and ‘helping’ industries like doctors, nurses and social workers.

Studies show prolonged exposure to traumatized people can lead to manifesting the same or similar symptoms as the people they’re trying to help. Lapidus says brain scans of people experiencing primary and secondary trauma look similar and they release the same stress hormones.

Therefore the symptoms of secondary trauma are the same as primary trauma. That includes withdrawing from activities you once found enjoyable, seeing a change in appetite or sleep schedule. On a physical level, victims could experience difficulty breathing, muscle and joint pain and an impaired immune system.

It can lead to compassion fatigue or burnout.

“So I think its time to get help when you start feeling emotionally numb if you start reliving the trauma during downtime when you start avoiding anything that reminds you of the trauma or avoiding clients or patients or coworkers,” said Lapidus. “Sometimes you might have trouble concentrating you might have compassion fatigue or be easily annoyed and irritated exhausted.”

She says if you see this happening, seek help from a therapist or reach out to a friend. She also recommends taking it easy, in a personal and professional way. Here’s a secondary trauma stress scale to see if this applies to you.

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