What Kind of Impact Does Being Bullied at Work Have on a Person’s Mental Health?

I decided to write about workplace bullying because I know what it is like to be bullied at work.  It has had a profound effect on my life and is a subject that is difficult for me to think about let alone write about it.  However I know that writing about a traumatic experience and sharing it with others can often be therapeutic.  At the very least it will help bring awareness to others and hopefully help people who have been victims of bullying whether it has occurred at school or in the workplace.

I would like to begin by providing a definition that will hopefully be helpful with regards to explaining what workplace bullying actually consists of.  The Workplace Bullying Institute has defined it as:

“Workplace bullying is repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrator/s that takes one or more of the following forms,”

  • Verbal abuse
  • Offensive conduct/behaviors (including nonverbal) which are threatening, humiliating, and/or intimidating
  • Work interference – sabotage- which prevents work from getting done

It is driven by a perpetrator’s need to control the targeted person/s.  It is also initiated by bullies who choose their targets, timing, location and methods.  The bully/bullies personal agenda takes on more importance over the work itself.   Workplace bullying can also include physical aggression and/or violence and undermining the “target’s work”.

Being bullied at work can lead to many serious consequences for the victim.  It can lead to things such as:

  • Debilitating Anxiety and Panic Attacks
  • Depression/Suicidal Ideation/Suicide Attempts/Suicide/ Homicides
  • PTSD- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • Drug and/or Alcohol Abuse
  • Having an Overwhelming Sense of Injustice
  • Shame and Guilt
  • Lower Performance Levels at Work
  • An Increase in Sick Days and/or Using up Vacation Time to Escape the Stress of Being Bullied
  • Job Loss Due to Either Quitting, Being Fired or Ending Up on Disability

There are other things that a victim may experience, such as the following:

  • Anxiousness about going to work, obsessing about work and analyzing everything
  • High blood pressure and/or other health problems
  • Taking “time off” for mental health breaks from the stress and misery of being bullied
  • Days off are not relaxing, do not recharge one’s batteries but are spent exhausted and lifeless
  • Experiencing a lack of motivation, and not being able to enjoy fun and relaxing activities
  • Being ashamed of telling anyone about the bullying and believing that you somehow provoked the workplace cruelty

I experienced many of the above symptoms while working in a child/adolescent psychiatry unit in a hospital. I was a victim of workplace bullying.  One would think that by working in the mental health field one would be immune to being bullied.  However this certainly was not the case for me.  I was a newly hired employee and was seen by my co-workers as a “threat”.  I had more specialized training and education than the four other team members I was expected to work with.  Unfortunately it didn’t take long for the tightly knit group to gang up on me.  The ratio was 4 bullies to one victim, as you can imagine this was pretty much sheer hell for me.

I experienced just about everything that I had mentioned earlier.  The amount of stress and the toll it took on my own mental health was phenomenal.  I tried several things like ignoring the bullying behavior, and tried to focus on working with the mental health patients/families as best as I could but to no avail.  It seemed the harder I worked or the harder I tried it only tended to make things worse.  I attempted to talk with my co-workers and tried to get along but they made it impossible for me.  Any chance they would get they would shun me and undermine my work.  It got to a point where I was no longer able to take it anymore.  Talk about feeling like “going postal”!  I went to my supervisor and asked for a transfer.  However that was quickly denied and I was told to “work it out with the others”.

I went away feeling like things were pretty hopeless.  It seemed as though things were not going to change anytime soon.  I began looking for another job outside of the hospital.  However by that time I was so stressed and anxious that I did not present well in any of the few interviews that I had.  I was a nervous wreck. I was so anxiety ridden that I tried one more time to get my supervisor to do something about the problem.  Her solution was to have a group meeting and to confront the bullies on their mistreatment of me.  This completely back fired and the meeting turned hostile, and the manager lost control of the meeting very quickly.  My heart rate increased and my “fight or flight response” kicked in.  The only choice I had was to stay in the meeting and continue the fight or run.  My instincts took over and I “bolted”.  I then barricaded myself in a washroom and basically broke down.

I ended up having a panic attack and knew I could not go back and finish my shift.  I was definitely in no shape to work with mentally ill patients and their families.  I was able to calm myself down enough to go to my car and head home.  Shortly after arriving at home my supervisor was calling me on the phone.  She apologized for losing control of the meeting and for letting things get so hostile.  I told her that I was too upset and stressed to return to finish my shift.  She then had the gull to try and convince me to return back to work that same night!  I could not believe it.  To me this was like a “slap in the face” or “kicking a dog while it is down”.

The rest is kind of a blur because that final incident traumatized me so much that I was unable to recall much more after that.  Long story short, I picked myself up, dusted myself off and attempted to work my way through it.  This time I was able to have my union represent me and try and fight the battle for me.  It didn’t take long for things to get really messy and things were deteriorating once again.  I ended up going to my doctor and complained about the bullying and all of the stress I was under at work.

My doctor then decided to put me on sick leave or the more technical term, “short term disability”.  By this time I had been referred to a psychiatrist so he was involved with my case as well.  However being put on disability did not alleviate any of the stress as it was the insurance company’s goal to have me return back to the same work environment and work with the bullies once again.  As one could imagine I was horrified at the thought of returning.  My psychiatrist explained to me that this is what insurance companies do and there wasn’t much we could do about it except for me to return back to work.  Not only was this very discouraging, it also increased my anxiety level to almost unmanageable levels.  Ativan can only do so much!  I basically ended up feeling really trapped and it seemed that there were no other options for me at the time.

Once I was “thrown back to the wolves” I was very distrustful in regards to the bullies and with my supervisor.  The bullies were read the “riot act” and were basically told that any type of bullying behavior would not be tolerated.  The four of them watched themselves for a short time but there was certainly still a lot of unresolved issues between them and myself.  The animosity between us was not going to go away.  I pretty much felt like I was constantly “walking on egg shells” at work and knew that was not good for my own well-being.  For a few months I was able to drag myself “unwillingly” into work by telling myself that I am good at what I do and am able to help a lot of the patients/families.  However the working environment remained to be very negative, even the head psychiatrist of the program acknowledged that to me.  He had told me that he had realized there was very low morale on the unit.  Although he recognized a lot of the problems, like most doctors he was just too busy to get involved in such a mess.

I was able to manage working a few more months by using up all of my sick days and vacation time in an attempt to recover from the abuse and mistreatment I had to endure.  I barely hung on, lasted for about another 7 more months and then “crashed and burned” like I never have before.  This time my psychiatrist said “I am putting you on long term disability”.  Thankfully he acknowledged that it was not “therapeutic” for me to work in that environment ever again.  The insurance company did not pressure me to go back the second time around, but they did make me “jump through many hoops” so I could continue to receive benefits.  There are way too many details to go into as to what else I had to endure so I could remain on disability.  I am very fortunate in the sense that I had a very good psychiatrist, family doctor, psychologist and union representative to fight some battles for me with regards to the insurance company.  I really don’t know how I would have ended up without their help.  I am guessing I would have ended up “dead” or “going postal”.  There was a time where I was diagnosed with being not only “suicidal” but “homicidal” as well.  Sad but true.  So literally “I have been to Hell and back” more than once throughout this whole ordeal.

This November it will be 7 years since I was put on long term disability.  Currently I am learning how to cope and manage my bipolar II symptoms.  I was finally given a correct diagnosis in January 2011.  Life continues to be an uphill battle for me.  I am still not sure what the future holds for me but I am hoping that the “next chapter of my life” is much better than the last.  All I really want is to be “happy”.

3 thoughts on “What Kind of Impact Does Being Bullied at Work Have on a Person’s Mental Health?

  1. I was bullied for a year (2009-2010) before I was fired. They found someone hand picked by my bully to replace me. She (the bully) is a well known psychologist in our small town. She and the office manager ganged up on me the moment I arrived and after the year I worked there, I had every single symptom you listed above. I still have PTSD from the experience and will never work for someone else again.

    They proved to me that the world is a truly hostile place and reinforced my severe agoraphobia. I will probably never recover from that year when I tried to go back to work. The harder and harder I tried, the worse they made it.

    The day they fired me was at the end of a two week vacation for the office manager. They waited until the day before the bosses were leaving at 4:30 in the afternoon to do it, just to make sure all of the work got done. I cleaned out my desk in 10 minutes and bolted. I had been carrying an empty box in the car for months in case I got to the point where it was too much to take.

    I wrote a blog piece on workplace bullying after they found my blog and were making snide, nasty comments on it. I also started moderating the comments, but I still had to read them. It wasn’t enough that they bullied me out of the job. They followed me and bullied me some more. After I posted the piece about bullies, they finally left me alone.

    I think we learn these behaviors as children and some people just never grow out of them. This woman had to be the most popular, the richest, the sexiest, the best at what she did, the most well-liked, and she did that by finding someone else to put down. The office manager was a willing participant.

    Chelle
    http://www.lifeonthedomesticfront.blogspot.com

  2. I just wanted to add that prior to the bullying incident I had been diagnosed with depression and treated with Paxil. During the bullying I was then treated for Generalized Anxiety and ADHD. I was unaware that I had Bipolar II at the time and can now understand why my feelings were so “magnified” while eduring the stress and misery of being bullied. If you have any comments or questions for me feel free to leave me a message, Vicky……….

  3. Thank you for sharing your expeience Chelle. It is important to tell our stories as hard as it may be. I remember reading your blog before and all of what you said rang true for me as well. It is an awful thing to go through and I do not wish being bullied upon anyone, child or adult.

Thoughts? Questions? Leave your feedback here!