Documentary explores fatigue among 'helping professions'

Oct 7, 2011
Originally published on October 7, 2011 4:34 pm

TACOMA, Wash. - Northwest states have long been top producers of Peace Corps volunteers and are also home to some of the biggest global relief charities. What gets less attention is the post-traumatic stress and burnout some of those workers come home with. A new documentary premiering in Seattle Saturday explores "compassion fatigue" among the "helping professions."

A string of natural disasters in the news last year and the imminent 10th anniversary of 9/11 made some communication and English majors at Pacific Lutheran University curious.

"We just came across the issue of compassion fatigue. We had never really heard about it," says Katie Scaff. "So once we started researching it, we're like, why don't more people know about this?"

Scaff is one of three co-producers of a new student-filmed documentary titled Overexposed. (The others are Elizabeth Herzfeldt-Kamprath and Hailey Rile.)

Scaff says "compassion fatigue" can be used to describe donors who grow weary from images of heart-tugging disasters and subsequent fundraising appeals. But what her team found most compelling was the use of the same term to describe the effects of repeated exposure to suffering or trauma on care providers.

"No matter if you are just a stay-at-home mom or if you're a school teacher or a doctor, or if you're on the front lines responding to a disaster, everyone is susceptible," Scaff explains. "They should be paying attention to their own health and the health of those around them."

In their documentary, the filmmakers turn to a hospital nurse-administrator in New Orleans, Ecoee Rooney, to underscore the point.

Film clip: "I take breaks, I walk away. I'll step away from my desk. I'll make a cup of coffee. I'll think things over. You know, I don't just sit here and keep plowing through..."

A donation from the global relief group World Vision enabled the student filmmakers to crisscross the country in pursuit of interviews and footage. They filmed in post-hurricane New Orleans, at Ground Zero in New York and in tornado damaged Joplin, Missouri.

The filmmakers plan to post their half-hour documentary to the web after its theatrical premiere. Federal Way, Washington-based World Vision says it plans to use it internally to train its staff to deal with stress in the field.


"OverExposed: The Cost of Compassion" premieres Saturday, October 8, at 2 pm.

Microsoft Auditorium, Seattle Central Public Library - 1000 4th Avenue, Seattle, WA

On the Web:

'Overexposed' movie trailer:

Pacific Lutheran University MediaLab:

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