Dealing with workplace bullying and stress

People spend a significant amount of time at work which can provide a meaning, income and enjoyment, but also a major source of stress. Despite laws against workplace bullying, one in two people experience workplace bullying or harassment that negatively impacts their mental health. People deserve to experience safety in their workplace but the reality is that is does not always happen and many suffer in silence for fear of losing their jobs. However, if health is compromised too much, unfortunately this can place a person at risk of burnout or developing a major mental illness such as a depressive condition, anxiety condition, adjustment disorder or worsen a pre-existing mental health condition.

This is not a weakness in character, rather a sign that a workplace is unhealthy. It is helpful to speak with a psychologist to assist with your goals, know and explore how to advocate for your rights to return safety to a role, or if that is not possible, explore alternative options, rebuild confidence and restore wellbeing. Psychological therapy can be a way to reduce suffering, reclaim personal power and feel empowered in exploring options.

Workplace bullying can take obvious forms in terms of violence or threats of violence and physical intimidation. Psychological forms of bullying are more subtle, but also damaging such as, experiencing repeated verbal aggression and hostility, personal attacks, unwanted sexual remarks or behaviour, public humiliation, undermining of work, being overworked and underpaid, being set up to fail, repeated micromanaging, inadequate support and not being protected from harm. There is also discrimination or unfair treatment based on age, gender, sexuality or race.

Signs that workplace bullying is impacting mental health and professional support may be needed:

-Starting to experience regular anxiety, worry, agitation or fear

-Irritability which is out of character

-Questioning your self-confidence

-Difficulty concentrating and processing information at work and making mistakes

-Difficulty switching off after work

-Poor sleep or nightmares

-Feelings of being trapped, despairing or hopeless

-Reduced trust in the world

-Negative outlook on life

-Intrusive memories

-Not engaging in self-care

-Drinking more or turning to drugs

-Difficulty speaking up for yourself

-Personal relationships are beginning to suffer

-Withdrawal

-Thoughts of suicide

People can and do recover from workplace bullying but may need professional help to process the experience and find a way that works for them.

Katherine Bonaldi (Clinical Psychologist) works in the area of workplace bullying and CBT or ACT and is registered with Worksafe Vic. If you wish for confidentiality, private fees are available and people may be eligible for Medicare rebates and private health insurance rebates.

If you need further information about your rights, you can look at the Worksafe Vic website: www.worksafe.vic.gov.au or contact Worksafe advisory service anonymously: 1800136089. If you are currently in crisis there is Lifeline: 131114.

References: Safework Aus and Australian Psychological Society.