First responders are at elevated risk for psychological distress from frequent exposure to potentially traumatic events. Self-compassion may buffer against the negative impact of these stressors, and the potential emotional challenges of having high levels of compassion for others. However, little is known about the psychological impact of compassion in first responders. We examined how self-compassion, compassionate love for others, and service role interacted to predict mental health in a diverse group of first responders.
First responders (N = 171) with both traditional and emotional support roles completed an online survey including measures of self-compassion, compassionate love, psychological distress, post-traumatic stress, secondary traumatic stress, burnout, resilience, compassion satisfaction, and life satisfaction.
Greater self-compassion and compassionate love both independently predicted less depersonalization (|β|s ≥ .18, ps < .01). Greater self-compassion predicted less general psychological distress, post-traumatic stress, secondary traumatic stress, and emotional exhaustion, as well as greater resilience and life satisfaction (|β|s ≥ .35, ps < .001). Greater compassionate love predicted greater personal accomplishment and compassion satisfaction for all first responders (|β|s ≥ .30, ps < .001); for traditional first responders only, greater self-compassion predicted greater personal accomplishment and compassion satisfaction (role x self-compassion; |β|s ≥ .16, ps < .05). Emotional support first responders reported less emotional exhaustion and greater resilience than traditional first responders (|β|s ≥ .21, ps < .05).
Self-compassion and compassionate love each play important roles in promoting mental health among first responders. Programs designed to increase compassion could be beneficial in this population.