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Saturday, April 13, 2024

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Saturday, April 13, 2024

COMPASSION FATIGUE

We live in an age of constant scrolling. With just a single click, we get news served on a platter. Eleanor A Sangma writes about how doom-scrolling, true to its name, has resulted in gloom in most people’s lives in the Garo Hills, and the world over.

By Eleanor A Sangma

In 2020, even as the entire planet came to an abrupt standstill because of Covid-19, the media worked tirelessly to disseminate news related to the global pandemic. I remember constantly consuming updates on new cases and the rising death toll, before feeling so completely overwhelmed by it I stopped reading the news altogether. This, I learned later, is due to what experts call “compassion fatigue”.

Psychologist Charles Figley refers to compassion fatigue as a state of biological, physiological and emotional exhaustion and dysfunction caused due to constant exposure to compassion (or second-hand) stress. It leads to physical, emotional and behavioural changes in an individual ranging from grief, anger, sadness, and a sense of detachment, among others.

The condition has largely been associated with people whose jobs require them to care for another person, such as rescue workers, therapists and nurses. In terms of media, an empathetic reader is compelled to care about what happens to the people in the news stories. Trauma becomes contagious after a point; their story becomes your story.

Journalism professor and author, Susan D. Moeller, explores the subject in her book Compassion Fatigue: How the Media Sell Disease, Famine, War and Death. She says that compassion fatigue takes shape in the reader when they become emotionally invested in a crisis or tragedy, and want to help in whatever meaningful way possible, but are unable to do so. Most times, the helplessness and emotional overload cause them to completely avoid the news.

Compassion fatigue has also been affecting some readers in Tura.

Covid cases are on the rise again, Russia is still at war with Ukraine and climate change seems more real than ever. Every single day, there are so many issues begging for our attention that at one point, they almost become a blur. Add that on top of one’s personal struggles, and the overwhelming feeling threatens to cripple you. Your empathy becomes some sort of liability.

In the past month, the media has been saturated with news of floods, landslides and other natural calamities in various places. “The images of people buried beneath masses of land, homes and families being destroyed have been horrific to look at,” says Sofi Sangma, a student of Tura.

She feels helpless and not able to do enough for those who need help – the very reason she has stopped reading news, especially on natural disasters and the resulting casualties. “It’s hard to read such stories. I get overwhelmed with grief,” she tells me.

Climate change is another such subject that exhausts her mentally. “It makes me scared to think that the earth we live on is dying, so to speak, that one day we might not see and feel nature as it is today.”

Sangma tells me how news has become almost synonymous with negativity for her. She is of the opinion that giving the same treatment and focus to positive news might help the situation, even from the perspective of the audience. “I noticed that when a positive story is posted, people often comment, is this news? It’s like everyone thinks bad news is the only news,” she adds.

Kamkam Cheran, another student of Tura, agrees media hardly gives importance to positive news, nor takes enough time to delve into much details. “They’ll repeat bad news stories till they become redundant. They will analyse, reanalyse, and try to get the perspective from every possible angle. But when it comes to good news, they often just tell it once and then never speak of it again,” he says.

He tells me he never reads the news in the morning as the inevitable encounter with something negative ruins the whole day for him. “Especially news about wars and violence. When I see images of children dying – due to starvation, cold, whatever the reason may be – I feel extremely sad.”

More countries have been experiencing political unrest and instability in recent years. Be it turmoil in our own land or outside, Cheran highlights how one is bound to feel strongly regarding such issues. He says, “The people who hold power and authority can do whatever they want. In the end, it’s the regular people like you and me, who have to suffer.”

He tells me reading about such injustices around the world breeds anger and hatred in some people. To avoid such a problem, he has resorted to reading just the headlines of the news without diving into the details. Avoidance becomes a form of self-preservation.

Information in this era is served on a platter for us with just a single click. While this spells progress in a lot of ways, it also comes with repercussions. Compassion fatigue is just one of the consequences of the modern world.

(The writer is a reporter with The Meghalayan)

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