The Privilege and Curse of Compassion Fatigue


Information about issues such as Black Lives Matter have dominated social media feeds in recent months, as shown in this TikTok user’s For You page.

When I first downloaded TikTok, I wanted to get in on the inside jokes and learn fun dances. But then quarantine hit and suddenly my “For You Page” was full of activism and news that I wouldn’t have heard otherwise.

At first, I thoroughly enjoyed learning more about the world and my own culture. I immersed myself in the Black Lives Matter movement, I found ways to help my community by signing petitions, donating, spreading awareness, and I found myself inching out of this privileged bubble I’ve been willfully confined in. 

However, as the months of quarantine progressed and bad news seemed to be the only thing coming out of news outlets, it became more and more difficult to even glance at the app I once loved going to for escape and exposure. Suddenly, I “need to open my eyes” to every traumatic event in the world, I have to be informed or else lives will be forgotten and if I don’t sign this petition, I’m not doing my empathetic part. 

I recognize that I’m in this privileged position where I can turn away from bad news. I don’t have to read every article and I can simply scroll past. But I feel obligated to as an empathetic activist. There’s this other side of this pressure on our generation to always be informed that causes compassion fatigue and exposure fatigue. Two terms (which I learned recently, myself here) that describe the feelings people get when they are constantly exposed to traumatic news to the point where they can’t bring themselves to look anymore. 

One instance I found myself immersed in my for you page was the horrific situation in Nigeria of the violent group SARS (Special Anti Robbery Squad) that was originally created to protect its citizens but instead is targeting, robbing, harassing, and even killing them. It’s now been “disbanded” but it’s only been replaced with a SWAT team with basically the same people from SARS and its government is refusing to help its citizens. If you’d like to learn more, click here. The first time I heard this, I signed petitions, I learned more, I spread awareness. And then I saw current, horrifying videos in Nigeria. And again. And again. And now every time it’s mentioned, it’s difficult to not swipe away because I cannot bring myself to see it again. 

Being an informed teenager in this world is difficult. Having social media to only amplify and constantly shove it in my face is difficult. Sometimes I feel like teenagers are doing more than the adults who are in power. I’m tired. I only see the negative and I feel like I’m getting nowhere because the ones who can make the biggest impact aren’t doing anything. 

Can I even end this piece on a happy note? I’m not quite sure. What I do know is that even if this fatigue sets in, I need perseverance. I need action.

Keep signing petitions (here or here). 

Keep donating (one great cause is the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Yemen: click here).

Keep spreading awareness about issues that are relevant and important to you. 

Just keep trying.