Today is Pink Shirt Day in Canada, a day to stand up against bullying. It began when students in a Canadian high school wore pink in support of a male student who was bullied for wearing pink.
Pink Shirt Day makes for a good time to talk about how bullying affects mental health. While bullying among children and youth is more at the forefront of public awareness, adults can also be the targets of bullying. Workplace bullying is one form that adult bullying may take. According to Wikipedia, most studies report a prevalence of 10-15%.
I was the target of workplace bullying several years ago, and the organization I worked for took the stance of protecting the bullies. The effects of workplace bullying on mental health can be profound. Here are some of those effects, taken from several research papers referenced below:
- panic attacks
- decreased confidence and sense of self-worth
- perceive the world as less benevolent
- perceive other people as less supportive and caring
- perceive the world as less just and less controllable
- damage to personal relationships
- threatened sense of self
Bullying is also linked to mental illness. In a study by Mikkelsen and Einarsen, 76% of bullying targets exhibited symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. A study by Quine found an increased risk of anxiety and depression among nurses who experienced bullying.
Kivimäki and colleagues found a significant relationship between bullying and new depression diagnoses, but they also found that people with depression were more likely to be bullied. The researchers suggested this could be due to increased targeting by bullies or increased perception of others’ behaviours as hostile.
Words can hurt. Adults are not somehow protected from the effects of bullying by virtue of being adults. Bullying happens, and whether it happens to children or adults, it often goes unaddressed. This isn’t acceptable. Organizations need to address this issue, and stop hiding behind anti-bullying programs, using them as an excuse to stick their heads in the sand, or even worse, target the victims while protecting the perpetrator. Bullying exists, it has major effects on mental health, and we need to speak up whenever we see it.
And that’s what I have to say this pink shirt day.
You can find more posts related to work and workplace bullying on the blog index.
- Burnes, B., & Pope, R. (2007). Negative behaviours in the workplace: A study of two primary care trusts in the NHS. International Journal of Public Sector Management, 20(4), 285-303.
- Hutchinson, M., Vickers, M.H., Jackson, D., & Wilkes, L. (2005). “I’m gonna do what I wanna do”: Organizational change as a legitimized vehicle for bullies. Health Care Management Review, 31(4), 331-336.
- Hutchinson, M., Wilkes, L., Vickers, M., & Jackson, D. (2008). The development and validation of a bullying inventory for the nursing workplace. Nurse Researcher, 15(2), 19-29.
- Kivimäki, M., Virtanen, M., Vartia, M., Elovainio, M., Vahtera, J., & Keltikangas-Järvinen, L. (2003). Workplace bullying and the risk of cardiovascular disease and depression. Occupational & Environmental Medicine, 60(10), 779-783.
- Lewis, S.E., & Orford, J. (2005). Women’s experiences of workplace bullying: Changes in social relationships. Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology, 15(1), 29-47.
- Mikkelsen, E.G., & Einarsen, S. (2002). Basic assumptions and symptoms of post-traumatic stress among victims of bullying at work. European Journal of Work and Organisational Psychology, 11(1), 87-111.
- Quine, L. (2001). Workplace bullying in nurses. Journal of Health Psychology, 6(1), 73-84.