A condition called “compassion fatigue” is common among many doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers, but little research is being done on the toll it actually takes, according to a recent article.

Chronic exposure to difficult and emotionally charged situations can significantly affect the emotional state of some healthcare workers, leading to increased irritability, anxiety, cynicism. In some cases, it leads to problem drinking, researchers at the Regenstreif Institute, which is affiliated with the Indiana University School of Medicine, suggest. Strong feelings associated with the loss of a patient can lead to emotional detachment as a protective mechanism. In some cases, nurses may wind up leaving their jobs, according to the article.

The article, which appears in a recent issue of the Journal of Health Psychology, suggests peer counseling and supervisor training as ways to combat compassion fatigue. Engaging with a professional network of peers who are also dealing with the same issues can help relieve some of the emotional burden, researchers say.