What is Advocate Trauma?

Advocate trauma (aka helper trauma) is an umbrella term we use to describe the different mental health conditions endemic to working in crisis, emergency, or trauma-focused settings. While anyone can experience these conditions, helping professionals are at an increased risk because of their high-stress jobs, limited resources, high levels of empathy, and frequent exposure to traumatic situations. These conditions include:

  • professional burnout

  • compassion fatigue

  • vicarious trauma

  • post-traumatic stress

  • adjustment disorders

  • depression

  • panic attacks

  • substance misuse

  • and related conditions

Who is Affected?

Advocate trauma can affect anyone who regularly interacts with trauma, crises, or the suffering of others. We estimate that over 6.7 million helping professionals in the United States are currently struggling with one or more of these conditions and are not receiving adequate treatment or support. These conditions are especially common among nurses, social workers, mental health professionals, victim service providers, community health workers, and first responders.

What Does It Look Like?

Advocate trauma is not a singular condition but rather an umbrella term for a number of related and often comorbid conditions. That said, all of these conditions stem from chronic, extreme occupational stress and affect the mind and body in similar ways. If you’re struggling with advocate trauma for yourself or within your organization, you likely have noticed symptoms in one or more of the following areas:

Cognitive


  • Intrusive thoughts
  • Nightmares
  • Flashbacks
  • Problems concentrating
  • Learning difficulties
  • Forgetfulness
  • Dissociation/“zoning out”
  • Cynicism
  • Low self-esteem

Emotional


  • Inappropriate guilt/shame
  • Anxiety/constant worry
  • Panic attacks
  • Intense anger/frustration
  • Hopelessness
  • Loneliness
  • Difficulty feeling joy
  • Numbness/apathy
  • Loss of empathy

Behavioral


  • Avoidant behaviors
  • Jumpiness
  • Withdrawal/isolation
  • Insomnia/sleep problems
  • Disordered eating
  • Substance misuse
  • Relationship problems
  • Difficulties with intimacy
  • Impulsivity
  • Self-harm behaviors

Physical


  • Headaches
  • Muscle/joint aches
  • Frequent illness
  • Autoimmune flare-ups
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Heart arrhythmias
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes

Organizational


  • Diminished work performance
  • Poor professional boundaries
  • Negative client outcomes
  • Toxic workplace dynamics
  • Behavioral contagion
  • High turnover rates
  • Increased operating costs

What Can We Do About It?

The good news is that advocate trauma is treatable and preventable. We can mitigate the effects of chronic stress and build healthier more resilient organizations and social movements. Even more exciting, we can promote growth in the face of adversity. Doing so, however, requires us to radically reimagine health, justice, and equity in the helping professions. If we truly want to make an impact on the issues we care most about, we have to curb this epidemic and start caring for ourselves just as much as we care for others.

Learn More About Self-Care and Advocate Trauma