yinI read about the recent suicide of well-known and respected animal behaviorist Sophia Yin with a heavy, heavy heart.

I became familiar with her as I threw myself into the world of dog ownership and training several months ago.

A thoughtful piece about her in HuffPo mentions how those in animal care professions can suffer from something called compassion fatigue.

“The expectation that we can be immersed in suffering and loss daily and not be touched by it is as unrealistic as expecting to be able to walk through water without getting wet,” the article says. (source)

And some studies show that veterinarians more likely to suffer from clinical depression or commit suicide than other professions. (source)

Here’s a quote from a psychotherapist: “Animal care professionals are some of the most pain-saturated people I have ever worked with. The very thing that makes them great at their work, their empathy and dedication and love for animals, makes them vulnerable.” (source)

Many veterinarians chose their careers primarily because they love animals. They must frequently deal with illness, suffering, death, and abuse. They have to stare into the innocent eyes of a dog that was beaten by the person that was supposed to care for him, knowing that his injuries are so severe he needs to be put down, never having the chance to experience love or happiness in his short life. Vets also deal with unhappy, angry, and devastated people, too.

How can someone deal with that on a daily basis? Just writing it made me hurt inside. Compassion fatigue totally makes sense.

Yet, animal care jobs (and people care jobs!) can be incredibly rewarding, too. They can deliver the highest of highs along with the lowest of lows.

Some symptoms of compassion fatigue are anxiety, sadness, isolation, and anger. “If a person already has a history of depression, working as a helping professional can make them more vulnerable to compassion fatigue.”

All this makes me wonder if a compassionate career is not the best for HSPs, after all. I always thought it would be so fulfilling…but along with that fulfillment comes crushing regrets and what ifs.

But HSPs have such a wonderful capacity for empathy, consideration, and care, it seems like a waste to avoid a compassion profession due to the fear of being overwhelmed by the weight of sadness. I don’t have the answer to this conundrum.

Before I end this post, I want to write more about Dr. Sophia Yin.

Now, I don’t know for sure if she was an HSP, but she was extremely sensitive and empathic to animals. And, of course, I don’t know why she ended her life, either. (Making assumptions makes me nervous.)

At the very beginning of this video, she starts to cry when talking about how, as a young girl, she trained her dog using the painful and dominant methods that were popular at the time. The memory of this hurt her and filled her with regret. Watching this video touched me deeply, like I could feel her pain. In other interviews I have watched with her, she takes proven research and science and explains dog training in a way that is easy to follow and understand. She clearly wanted to help animals and the people around them, teaching them how to train and care for them in a positive way. She wrote books, made videos, and created products all for that purpose, and behind it all you can feel her genuine love and desire to help.

I’m so sad that such a valuable person, a gentle soul who gave so much to us, hurt so desperately bad…that she had to remove herself from the world. I wish sensitive people didn’t have to experience the lows of the world so intensely.

Related: Robin Williams, Suicide, and Depression

Further Reading: The Fatal Epidemic of Animal Care Workers

photo credit: lili.chin via photopin cc