We reported earlier this year that a Norwegian study revealed that bullied targets are twice as likely to have suicidal thoughts than those who were never bullied. Pioneer Heinz Leymann estimated that 10 percent of those bullied take their lives, according to the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI).
Researchers defined bullying as harassment, badgering, and freezing out that:
- Occurred repeatedly over a period of time.
- Involved two parties in which one had a higher ranking than the other.
It happens so often that there’s now a term for it. “Bullycide” happens when the cause of suicide is attributable to the victim having been bullied.
Now researchers in Australia report similar findings. In June 2016, Australian researchers determined that workplace bullying or harassment was associated with 1.54 greater odds of suicide ideation.
How workplace bullying can lead any of us to suicide (“bullycide”)
Findings show that none of us have a thick enough skin to be exempt from the workplace bullying-suicide connection. Not only did researchers find nothing to support the idea that targets are not those with a weakness that brings on psychological assaults, but evidence shows that targets are often high performing, highly ethical employees whose competence poses a threat to their low performing, low ethical bosses. The bully’s only real motivator is to battle the target while having the upper hand – an unethical tactic used to uphold the image they long for but are unable to get through competence:
- They abuse their power. They care about hurting, manipulating, controlling, and eliminating the target (generally after two years after the employee’s start date). They are kiss up, kick down managers who are masters of deception.
- They deceive others into thinking the target is the problem. They use the emotional abuse they caused to convince others that the target is mentally ill, setting the stage for mobbing, in which coworkers join in to isolate the target.
Normally having competence and ethics would help someone sleep at night. But with these traits, a workplace bullying target can find themselves on a slippery slope to bullycide – and it can happen to any of us.
- Workplace bullying can cause a target to abandon hope over time, to not see a future or alternatives. Abuse tactics are often so outrageous that no one believes the target when a bully attacks. They think the target must have done something wrong or exaggerates. Then abandonment by coworkers and impatience of family members and friends lead to utter loneliness and despair. When everything they try fails, they lose all hope. “Bullying causes severe health harm, much more acute than is experienced by those sexually harassed. Anxiety (80%); panic attacks (52%); depression (49%); PTSD diagnosis (30%); suffering intrusive thoughts/flashbacks (50%); sleep disorders (77%); hypertension (59%) to name some of the negative health consequences,” adds the WBI. Bullying can also produce confusion, emotional numbness, and the fight-or-flight reaction normally associated with traumatic stress.
- These responses are natural. “Depression is caused by the unremitting abusive conduct. And their lives unravel if it is not stopped…. It is the nature of the human stress response. With prolonged exposure to distress, changes in the brain occur. Thanks to modern neuroscience studies of social phenomena like ostracism, stress, and bullying, we know that atrophy of key areas of the brain impair decision making. Thus, it is highly likely that a brain flooded with steroidal glucocorticoids is not capable of clear, rational thinking. Suicide is the result of the failure to imagine alternatives to one’s current reality,” adds WBI.
“Ending the distress allows the person to recover. The brain literally ‘heals’ thanks to its property of plasticity. Restored gray matter volume brings back lost cognitive abilities — better decision making, optimism, a visualized future,” says WBI.
How you can help
So when will legislators say enough is enough? How many more competent, ethical workers will lose their lives from workplace abuse before we address this epidemic trough law?
We’ll change the rules when enough of us take a stand. School bullying legislation sat on desks until the tragic suicide of Phoebe Prince forced attention on the issue. Our goal is to help legislators understand that workplace bullying can and does cause great workers to take their lives. Read about three highly competent, ethical workers who took their lives from workplace bullying.
Share your stories
If you know of an employee who died from suicide from workplace bullying, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Change the rules
If you live in Massachusetts, write to your legislators and demand that employers be held accountable for workplace bullying through legislation.
If you live outside Massachusetts, find out how to help end workplace bullying in your state.