Animal care is a profession that involves taking care of animals used in biomedical research. However, this line of work can be extremely challenging, causing immense stress and emotional turmoil for animal care workers. Compassion fatigue is a term used to describe the condition in which an individual experiences a reduced capacity to empathize with others due to prolonged exposure to stressful situations. In the context of animal care workers, compassion fatigue is a common occurrence that affects the majority of lab animal employees worldwide, from cage cleaners to physicians who manage entire animal facilities.
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Compassion fatigue can lead to feelings of hopelessness, guilt, anxiety, and depression. Unfortunately, many animal care workers feel unable to discuss their emotions or seek help because of the stigma associated with animal research. Friends and family may not understand the unique challenges that come with caring for animals used in research, and animal rights groups often label animal care workers as murderers and torturers. Institutions that carry out animal research also tend to avoid discussing compassion fatigue for fear of drawing attention to their research programs. As a result, lab animal workers have suffered in silence for far too long.
However, this situation is beginning to change. The University of Washington (UW) has launched the first and largest compassion fatigue outreach program, collecting data from people affected, developing innovative methods to address the disease, and spreading awareness. The program, called Dare 2 Care, was created by a group comprising animal carers, researchers, vets, and administrators, including Van Hooser, a research scientist at UW who has experienced compassion fatigue himself.
Dare 2 Care provides animal care workers with various resources, including a crisis phone line and email, boxes for expressing their feelings and memories, and heart-shaped stickers or notes on euthanized animals’ enclosures to address endpoint notification. The program also encourages scientists to name animal employees in conference posters and publications and invites researchers to visit animal facilities to explain their science. By doing so, the program strives to make lab animal workers feel seen, recognized and supported.
The Texas Biomedical Research Institute and the University of Michigan have also started similar compassion fatigue programs, and the North American 3Rs Collaborative is helping universities set up compassion fatigue programs for the lab animal community.
However, there is still much work to be done to address compassion fatigue in the lab animal community. Most solutions for compassion fatigue originated from human healthcare, and there is little proof that they work for lab employees. Additionally, many colleges avoid discussing animal studies, and finances can be a hindrance to implementing compassion fatigue initiatives in lab animal facilities.
Despite these challenges, there is hope for the future. The increasing awareness and discussion around compassion fatigue in the lab animal community are encouraging signs that things are changing for the better. The culture change is underway, and the conversation around animal research and animal care workers’ mental health is finally being addressed.
Compassion fatigue is a severe issue that affects the majority of lab animal employees worldwide. However, the situation is beginning to change, and various initiatives are being launched to address compassion fatigue and provide support for animal care workers. By supporting these programs and raising awareness about compassion fatigue in the lab animal community, we can ensure that animal care workers receive the recognition and support they deserve. Check out 5 Ways Animal Testing Hurts Humans!
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- Petition: Tell FDA to Phase Out Animal Testing
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- 5 Ways Animal Testing Hurts Humans
- European Parliament Votes to Phase Out Animal Testing
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