Secondary Traumatic Stress

In Spring 2021, Washington State passed SHB 1363. This legislation acknowledges the significant toll STS has on educators, and subsequently students, and focuses on the adoption of policy and procedures so that districts and schools can take meaningful steps in supporting their staff’s health and well-being. Under RCW 28A.300.825, OSPI has been tasked with sharing resources and assessments to prevent and respond to STS.

What is Secondary Traumatic Stress?

Source: Trauma-Sensitive Schools

Secondary Traumatic Stress (STS) is “Secondary traumatic stress (STS) is the emotional distress that results when an individual hears about the traumatic experiences of another individual. Distress may result from hearing
someone’s trauma stories, seeing high levels of distress in the aftermath of a traumatic event, needing to retell a student’s story, and/or seeing photos or images related to the trauma.

Common symptoms of STS include the following:

  • Increased anxiety and concern about safety
  • Intrusive, negative thoughts and images related to their students’ traumatic stories
  • Fatigue and physical complaints
  • Feeling numb or detached from students
  • Feeling powerless or hopeless about students and the work
  • Diminished concentration and difficulty with decision making
  • Desire to physically or emotionally withdraw from people or situations that trigger difficult thoughts and emotions

Several other terms capture elements of STS, but with some differences.
Burnout is characterized by emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and a sense of reduced personal accomplishment. Although burnout also is work related, burnout develops as a result of general occupational stress; the term is not used specifically to describe the effects of indirect trauma exposure.
Compassion fatigue is a less stigmatizing way to describe STS and is sometimes used interchangeably with the term STS.

Resources and Information: