While nurses, doctors, and other medical professionals have been heavily exposed to compassion fatigue during the wave after wave of COVID-19, funeral directors have not been among those studied. Yet, those working in deathcare have been subject to the same risks for compassion fatigue as other caregivers.
Compassion fatigue is an emotional and physical drain for those working closely with anyone dealing with pain and/or suffering. It consists of two main factors: burnout and secondary trauma. Burnout can come through frustration with the work environment. Compassion fatigue has also been called a burnout specific to caregivers. Secondary trauma refers to the repeated exposure to painful details of the lives of patients, which can be intensively exhausting for caregivers. Failing to recognize the symptoms and get some form of mental care can lead to more serious mental health issues such as depression or post-traumatic stress disorder. Those on the front line of COVID-19 have already seen this as a recurring phenomenon among caregivers in stressful situations. Among those ranks are funeral directors who often fall by the wayside and are given less attention than their medical healthcare counterparts.
Funeral directors have been interfacing with bereaving families throughout the pandemic. On top of the pain of losing a loved one, many traditions, ceremonies, and gatherings have been denied to the grieving. Showing empathy to clients is a core part of the deathcare business, but COVID-19 has changed the way many funeral directors approach their job, being deprived of even extending a comforting hand. Along with wanting to provide strength to those in mourning, deathcare workers must balance their professionalism with the same fears the general public has: fear of contagion, fear of carrying the virus home to loved ones, fear for their co-workers. There are relatively few studies on the mental health of funeral directors. The studies that have been performed, showed that funeral directors run a higher risk of developing mental health problems like depression. The pandemic has caused cumulative exposure to stressful incidents, a high number of funerals, longer working hours, and the many difficulties to maintain the quality of work as before all may have an impact on mental health.
Many working in this profession report that they find different ways to cope with their compassion fatigue. Environmental factors like administrative and social support have been cited as the most helpful. Managers of funeral homes have focused on how to lighten administrative tasks for their funeral directors. Funeral directors have supported each other, often having to remind one another to take breaks or leave some work undone during the day. Additionally, relaxation exercises or mindfulness training have shown to decrease the development of stress, improving the overall resilience. Other resources include the Red Cross who started the Virtual Family Assistance Center of the American Red Cross, with a mind to supporting those who have suffered a death to COVID-19, serving both clients and first responders/caregivers.
No one is immune to the pandemic’s impact. Williams & Nickl has represented thousands of licensed professionals and their licensed business entities who face issues with IDFPR. If you find yourself in such a situation, Williams & Nickl can provide the help you need.