Mental Health

Via Unsplash.

Samantha Moxley wanted to bring awareness to the under-researched issue of vicarious trauma in her senior year.

Moxley, who is graduating with a BS in public health, created a program with free resources to help those experiencing vicarious trauma, a form of trauma resulting from engaging empathetically with trauma survivors.

Moxley said seeing her father experience vicarious trauma as a firefighter in her hometown of Huntley, Illinois, and learning about it made her want to help these workers in some way.

“Learning about vicarious trauma really helped me understand how privileged I was,” Moxley said. “I’m not in the position to be traumatized at work and they work so hard, they do so much that I felt like it was important to give back to them to find a way to help them.”

She started this project through an internship with Call for Help, a local nonprofit social service organization that provides assistance in cases of sexual assault, poverty, homelessness and mental health. She said the organization was looking into the state of their staff through a survey to identify symptoms and found that compassion fatigue — a condition where physical and emotional exhaustion leads to a diminished ability to feel compassion for others — was affecting their staff the most.

Her program is focused on primarily helping people find their own type of self care and providing free resources to help them benefit themselves through a personal self-care routine. Furthermore, she said they found resources to help people rate their own level of burnout, figuring out what point they need to seek help and resources to help managers figure out ways they can approach and support their workers in a

nonjudgmental way.

Originally, she designed her project for Call for Help specifically, but later provided it to the Illinois Public Health Association, which is her current internship. Since then, they have taken some of her materials and implemented them through other organizations in Illinois.

Public health professor and undergraduate program director Nicole Klein said it’s very rare that a student implements their project at the same time that they’re learning to plan and implement a program.

“Typically, that is a very demanding set of classes in the fall, so the students always have the option of actually implementing it, but Samantha was the only person who actually did it,” Klein said. “It is a lot of work. She was up for it and she did it, which says a lot about her as a student and as a person. She’s very organized, very dedicated [and] just really pushes herself.”

Moxley said the most difficult part about doing both at the same time was the pressure she put on herself to make sure she got it right the first time.

“For me, it was stressful, making sure that I really had a strong understanding of what the project should be like and how to implement it, because I didn’t want to do it wrong and make the people who went through the program feel like they weren’t getting enough help,” Moxley said.

Public health professor Caitlyn Carroll said the lack of previously existing statistics on vicarious trauma is what stood out to her the most in Moxley’s presentation, which she said is common with narrowed down target populations.

“I always find it interesting when students discover a population [such as] these responders because no one’s researching them, no one is addressing them,” Carroll said. “There isn’t a lot of research specifically for the first responders and the employees that go through this … so that’s why I really think she’s on to something with this one.”

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