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Take care so you can care

First responders: Don’t put yourself last

May is mental health month—a good reminder about compassion fatigue that many people might be facing right now. 

COVID-19 reminds us that stress can take a toll on our physical and mental health. Everyone experiences mental health challenges differently. People who work hard to keep our communities safe, like paid and volunteer emergency responders, may have high rates of compassion fatigue during COVID-19. 

Compassion fatigue signs and symptoms:

  • Nervous system arousal (sleep disturbance).
  • Increased emotional intensity.
  • Impaired behavior and judgment.
  • Loss of morale.
  • Depression.
  • Increased anger and irritability.

Helping during the pandemic

Emergency responses are highly stressful. Not everyone reacts to stress in the same way. Physical and mental health demands challenge your well-being. 

  • Remember self-care is important. Take breaks, get good rest and eat a balanced diet. It’s essential for you to take care of your own well-being before you can take care of others.
  • Ask for help early. Seek professional help as soon as you don’t feel mentally well, feel overwhelmed or if you are exhausted after rest.

If you or someone you know struggles with substance misuse, increased depression, anxiety or is suicidal, call the Pierce County Crisis Line: (800) 576-7764.

Manage stress to reduce compassion fatigue:

  • Acknowledge tough situations and recognize your accomplishments, even small ones.
  • Identify opportunities to relieve stress.
  • Acknowledge stress and discuss its impact on your life.
  • Talk with someone about your experiences.
  • Understand Secondary Traumatic Stress can happen anytime during or after a traumatic event. Stress reactions and symptoms can result from exposure to another person’s traumatic experiences, rather than direct exposure.

Your well-being is a priority. 

Think about how you can build healthy habits into your daily life:

  • If possible, limit working or volunteering hours to no longer than 12-hour shifts.
  • Work in teams and limit the amount of time you work alone.
  • Talk to family, friends, supervisors and teammates about your feelings and experiences.
  • Practice breathing and relaxation techniques.
  • Know that it is okay to draw boundaries and say “no.”


  • For a non-life-threatening but urgent mental health crisis: Call the Pierce County Crisis Line available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week: (800) 576-7764. 
    • Crisis Text Line: text 741741 (mobile fees waived).
    • Other Mental Health Resources call 211.
    • LGBTQ Trevor Project Support Center: (866) 488-7386.
  • If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts: Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week: (800) 273-TALK (8255).

Learn more about COVID-19 at