September 30th, 2011

Complex PTSD: Devastating Health Effects From Workplace Bullying

By Andrew Mitchell
Suite 101
August 18th 2010

The harming effects of workplace bullying can go further than mere embarrassment. A target may become psychologically injured after long-term abuse.

According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, "workplace bullying is repeated, health-harming mistreatment that takes one or more of the following forms: verbal abuse; offensive conduct/behaviors (including nonverbal) which are threatening, humiliating, or intimidating; and work interference (sabotage) which prevents work from getting done."

Workplace bullying has devastating effects on the targeted individual. Not only does one feel that their job is in jeopardy, they may also start to feel physically ill and emotionally harmed.

Workplace Bullying Liabilities

Bullying poses great liabilities to employers, including:

  • Occupational health and safety violations;
  • Actions for negligence or intentional infliction of mental suffering; or
  • Defamatory actions.

Another concern that arises from workplace bullying is stress-related illness. These illnesses can range over many categories. It is not uncommon for people under extreme stress to develop symptoms of heart disease (i.e. high blood pressure), gastrointestinal disorders (i.e. irritable bowel syndrome, ulcers) and many other ailments. The stress that results from bullying can lead to long-term illnesses; some ailments by affect an individual for life.

Bullying and Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

As a result of the negative feelings associated with workplace bullying, targets are at a very high risk of developing mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety disorder. Their way of living is attacked for no apparent reason and often, the attacker is intent on harming the target for no apparent reason. Targets may endure abuse day in and day out for months or even years. This abuse harms their overall health. While depression and anxiety can be debilitating, targets may experience symptoms that are different. Yet finding a fitting diagnosis causes a bit of a controversy among some professionals.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) describes symptoms that result when a person is involved in a short-term or single traumatic event. Examples include accidents, natural disasters, assault, attempted murder and rape because these are considered to be of short duration. However, the trauma related to workplace bullying is not an isolated, short-term event.

Long term or chronic events that span a period of months or years tend to develop symptoms that vary from PTSD. There is usually more intense psychological harm when one experiences repeated trauma. There may be complete changes to one's concept of who they are and in their ability to cope with stressful situations.

During long-term traumas, people are held in physical and/or emotional captivity. They are under the influence of their abuser and unable to get out of the situation they are in. Examples include:

  • Prisoner of War camps
  • Long-term domestic violence
  • Repeated, severe physical abuse
  • Childhood sexual abuse

Some psychologists believe that a different term, Complex PTSD (C-PTSD), should be used to identify trauma that is repeated or long-term. Bullying targets may show symptoms that are similar to PTSD and/or C-PTSD. For this reason, researchers of workplace bullying believe that bullying should be considered an example of captivity.

C-PTSD is not a recognized diagnosis in the current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. It should be noted, however, that the main difference between the two types of PTSD is the cause of the disorder in the patient. Symptoms of the two types are much the same. For this reason, therapists may diagnose bullying targets with PTSD, allowing patients receive treatment.

The Symptoms of Complex PTSD

Above all, to be considered for a diagnosis of C-PTSD, the target must experience an extended period under the control of another person. After this has been established, other symptoms must be taken into account.

According to Julia M. Whealin, Ph.D. and Laurie Slone, Ph.D., in the May 22, 2007 version of the US Department of Veterans Affairs site, Complex PTSD, there are symptoms that would occur if someone has been chronically victimized, including:

  • Persistent sadness, explosive anger; inhibited anger; suicidal thoughts;
  • Forgetting traumatic events or reliving them. Feeling detached from one's mind or body;
  • Feelings of helplessness, shame, guilt and stigma. One may feel that they are different than other people;
  • Attributing total power to the abuser. Preoccupation with the perpetrator, possibly becoming obsessed with revenge;
  • Social isolation, distrust in others or repeatedly searching for a rescuer; and
  • A loss of faith or a sense of hopelessness and despair.

Other difficulties that may be experienced by people with C-PTSD include:

  • Avoiding topics related to the trauma due to feelings that are too overwhelming;
  • Abusing alcohol/other substances to avoid and/or numb feelings/thoughts associated with trauma;
  • Self-mutilating and/or other types of self-injurious behaviors.

Workplace bullying is a serious issue due to the harmful health issues it causes. People have committed suicide and/or harmed others while in the throes of PTSD episodes. One should consult their doctor and/or a mental health professional if experiencing symptoms, especially feelings that cause one to be a danger to self or others.

Originally posted at Suite101


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This entry was posted on Friday, September 30th, 2011 at 9:32 am and is filed under WBI in the News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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