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  • Writer's pictureAshley Brothers

Unseen Burden: Understanding Secondary Trauma Among Caregivers and First Responders -Ashley Brothers

Updated: Aug 9, 2023


Caring for a loved one who battles trauma and mental illness is an act of compassion and support. However, the responsibilities and emotional toll that caregivers, friends, and family members endure can often lead to a phenomenon known as secondary trauma. While the focus is usually on the person directly experiencing trauma or mental illness, it's essential to acknowledge the impact that providing care can have on those surrounding them.

Defining Secondary Trauma:

Secondary trauma, also known as vicarious trauma or compassion fatigue, refers to the emotional, psychological, and physical stress that caregivers and those close to individuals with trauma and mental illness can experience. Just as the person undergoing the trauma is affected, caregivers can also be profoundly impacted by their proximity to the struggles and challenges their loved ones face.

Understanding the Effects:

  • Emotional Overload: Caregivers often share in the emotional rollercoaster experienced by their loved ones. Witnessing their pain, anxiety, and distress can lead to feelings of helplessness, sadness, and frustration.

  • Increased Stress: The added responsibilities of caregiving, coupled with the unpredictability of mental health issues, can lead to elevated stress levels among caregivers. The constant worry about the well-being of their loved one can take a toll on their own mental and physical health.

  • Burnout: Caregivers are at risk of experiencing burnout due to the demands of caregiving and the lack of time for self-care. This can lead to exhaustion, detachment, and a decreased ability to provide effective support.

  • Changed Perspective: Continuous exposure to trauma and mental illness might alter caregivers' worldview and outlook on life. They may become more vigilant, anxious, or pessimistic as they grapple with the harsh realities of their loved one's experiences.

  • Isolation: The stigma surrounding mental illness can lead caregivers to feel isolated from their social circles. The lack of understanding and support from others can intensify feelings of loneliness and emotional strain.

Coping Strategies:

  • Education and Awareness: Learning about trauma and mental illness can help caregivers comprehend their loved one's struggles better. This understanding can equip them to provide more informed and empathetic support.

  • Self-Care: Caregivers must prioritize their well-being. Engaging in activities they enjoy, seeking therapy themselves, and maintaining a healthy work-life balance can help mitigate the impact of secondary trauma. (NOTE: Read upcoming blog about HeartMath techniques to build up resilience and tolerance to stress and create new reference patterns that have nothing to do with the past).

  • Setting Boundaries: Establishing clear boundaries between caregiving responsibilities and personal life is crucial. Caregivers need to recognize that it's okay to take breaks and ask for help when needed.

  • Support Networks: Connecting with support groups or seeking guidance from mental health professionals can provide caregivers with a safe space to share their experiences and receive emotional validation.

Opening the Conversation:

To address the issue of secondary trauma, it's essential to open up conversations about the challenges caregivers face. Society should acknowledge and appreciate the tireless efforts of caregivers and extend a helping hand when necessary. By destigmatizing mental health discussions, we can create an environment where caregivers feel comfortable seeking help for themselves and their loved ones.


The act of caring for someone with trauma and mental illness is undeniably selfless, but it comes with its own set of challenges. Recognizing the concept of secondary trauma sheds light on the emotional burden borne by caregivers, friends, and family members. To create a more compassionate and supportive society, we must emphasize the importance of caregivers' well-being, while also advocating for increased awareness and understanding of mental health issues overall.

Ashley Brothers - Institute of Conscious Evolution LLC, Bend OR

Author of A Living Prayer Blog, public speaker, holistic practitioner, and teacher of energy medicine, shamanic healing, and psychic channeling


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