The United States Army is taking a hard look at the effects of toxic leaders on the mental health of soldiers, and the results may yield valuable insights on linkages between bullying behaviors and suicidal tendencies.
Daniel Zwerdling reports for National Public Radio:
Top commanders in the U.S. Army have announced publicly that they have a problem: They have too many “toxic leaders” — the kind of bosses who make their employees miserable. Many corporations share a similar problem, but in the Army’s case, destructive leadership can potentially have life or death consequences. So, some Army researchers are wondering if toxic officers have contributed to soldiers’ mental health problems.
One of those researchers is Dave Matsuda. In 2010, then-Brig. Gen. Pete Bayer, who was supervising the Army’s drawdown in Iraq, asked Matsuda to study why almost 30 soldiers in Iraq had committed or attempted suicides in the past year.
Before Matsuda began his investigation, the suicides had been largely attributed to personal problems such as childhood experiences, family issues, and financial pressures. However:
A more complicated story began to emerge, he says. In addition to major problems in their personal lives, the victims also had a leader who made their lives hell — sometimes a couple of leaders — Matsuda says. The officers would “smoke” them, as soldiers call it.
“Oftentimes platoon leaders will take turns seeing who can smoke this guy the worst. Seeing who can dream up the worst torture, seeing who can dream up the worst duties, seeing who can make this guy’s life the most miserable,” says Matusda.
You can listen to Zwerdling’s 13-minute segment and access a transcript of it here.
Significant implications for understanding the workplace bullying/suicide link
Suicide is a very difficult and painful subject, not to mention a complicated one to understand. Those who have been studying workplace bullying and its effects are well aware, however, of growing anecdotal evidence linking severe bullying behaviors at work to suicidal ideation. Furthermore, we know from clinical psychology that bullying can trigger or exacerbate depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, two conditions associated with suicide.
All too often, targets of workplace bullying are dismissed as being “weak” or “overly sensitive.” Perhaps the Army’s study of toxic leadership will help to refute this wrongful presumption. Here are soldiers who have survived boot camp and experienced life-threatening combat conditions, yet their deaths have been associated with targeted, ongoing, malicious mistreatment by their superiors.
Weaklings? No. Human? Yes.
Please go here for additional posts on this blog discussing workplace bullying, suicide, and related topics.
Hat tip to Susan Thomas for NPR piece.