The workplace bullying suicide of Jodie Zebell, age 31

This week, a Wisconsin state legislative committee deliberating on the Healthy Workplace Bill heard about the 2008 suicide of Jodie Zebell, who took her own life after enduring months of workplace bullying at the clinic where she worked as a mammographer.  As reported by the Wisconsin State Journal:

In 2008, 31-year-old Jodie Zebell appeared to have a full life. The UW-Madison graduate was married with two young children and a part-time job as a mammographer at a La Crosse clinic, where she was praised as a model employee.

But soon afterward, Zebell became the target of co-workers who unfairly blamed her for problems at work. After she was promoted, the bullying intensified….(T)he boss joined in the harassment, filling Zebell’s personnel file with baseless complaints about her performance and loudly criticizing her in front of others.

“This went on for a series of months,” said [her aunt Joie] Bostwick, a Blue Mounds native who now lives in Naples, Fla. “It just got worse and worse.”

On Feb. 3, 2008, the day before she was to receive a poor job review, Jodie Zebell took her own life.

The Journal article recounts the testimony of many other workers who have been subjected to severe workplace bullying.  It closes with a plea from University of Wisconsin labor studies professor Corliss Olson, who has long been involved in advocacy and education efforts around workplace bullying:

Corliss Olson, associate professor at the UW-Extension’s School for Workers, said the bill is “desperately” needed.

Olson said most targets of bullying are “normal, competent people” who can be driven to disability or even death.

“This is a viciousness in the workplace that we need to stop,” Olson said. “We can and we must change our workplaces so they are civil.”

For good reason, much attention has been devoted in recent weeks to the suicide of Massachusetts teenager Phoebe Prince, who took her own life after a merciless campaign of bullying by her schoolmates.

In addition, we cannot forget that in severe circumstances, adults can be driven to suicide because of horrific treatment at work that threatens their security and livelihoods.


Wisconsin State Journal article

To get involving in supporting the Healthy Workplace Bill

For Help: If you find yourself or someone you care about at risk, please reach out for help.  The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached around the clock at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or  here.

30 responses

  1. I was in a situation like this in my first job after college. When I was first hired, the clients joked about how long I’d last with my supervisor because she had been through so many assistants. I lasted a year and a half, but I left with the worst confidence ever. When I was being interviewed, they called my references and asked them to describe good and bad qualities about me. They all said the same thing: I had zero confidence. A bad work environment can have a horrible affect on a person.

    • Thank you, Karen, for sharing that. Knowing something of your work, I can attest that you have no reason to doubt your competence and ability. But isn’t it something that there are people out there who are so horribly adept at tearing down good, dedicated workers?

    • I’m so sorry for your horrible experience, I have experienced workplace bullying for several years and even though I am disabled and two years ago discovered that I had cancer; I have had my treatment but it has left complications so I am still off sick and I am actually covered by the Disability Discrimination Act I still have what I call my “Fan Club” they write, they have their meetings; it is clear the direction they want to go. They try and make it look as if they are trying to help but in actual fact they use it for an excuse to apply more pressure. They have gone so far as to put my great grandson up for adoption through an accidental injury they they have allegedly call none accidental. I believe for all the important points were missed, nothing short of a character assassination on my daughter. It is so sad because you can see all the love between the baby and his parents he is gorgeous, it really does beg the question “is it a personal attack on me?” Bullies are usually “Emotionally Weak Insecure People” that hide behind others to create their own power, but power being illusions it doesn’t really exist. The thing to remember is “it isn’t you” We’ve all got baggage worked through or not, worked through it can be very positive, it can make you stronger. Good luck in working though yours and believe in yourself at least what you achieved was on merritt not jealousy and despicable behaviour!

  2. I also work in a hospital environment but take xrays instead of mammograms. I am the only employee that works the evening shift and often take the blame for everything that happens. I am also neglected and left out of many activities and it really hurts. What makes things worse is that I live alone and then have to deal with the snickers behind my back and the employees talking about the party that they had, one that I never was invited to. Many times I actually pray that I wont wake up in the morning. Things would be better if I had someone to talk to or a partner to give me comfort but if the girl that did the Mammograms had that and it didnt help, I dont know what does. I’ve told the employees and the boss how this hurts me but they dont listen.

    • Wendy, I’ve experienced bullying at the workplace, but that was about 15 years ago. Now that I look back on the experience, I realize how much strength I had just to go to work everyday. I realize how much faith I had that I was not put on this earth to be so mistreated. The ones that bullied me are probably still bullying others, so it wasn’t me that caused the problems–it was their insane need for power. Like a bad boyfriend, those people are not worth you praying not to wake up in the morning. If the environment won’t change, change your environment. Get out. You have skills that are needed and you will be appreciated elsewhere. And leave the bullies to their misery. Take your happiness with you. And build on it. Find someone to talk to about the situation. Your message touched me and I know it will touch others, so speak it loudly. Break the silence. Break the silence. Find someone who will listen and advise you, support you, believe in you. If you would like to email me, please let me know and I’ll find a way to get my email address to you. Courage is fire, bullying is smoke. Please be strong.

    • Wendy, those people’s behaviour is reprehensible, but you know what – they are not going to change. Please find a great coach and/or counselor – there are terrible people in this social world and there are fabulous people. Your life is too precious to waste it caring what uncaring people think or behave like. You deserve much better than that.

    • Bless you, sweetheart you sound lovely, but emotionally abandoned. If you don’t have a good employer, from my experience what I reolised along time ago it that they can’t be seen to acknowledge that they have a problem. I have observed the way they have handled incidents that I have addressed. They have a “duty of care for your Mental Health, Physical Health & Your Welfare. To not listen to you is neglect on their part. At our place, they way they allegedly deal with things it bully the bullied make their life a misery until hopefully they leave of their own accord! That is there theory anyway but unfortunately there are so many (figuratively speaking) chiefs & not enough Indians, sadly, what was something that I valued so dearly has changed to the point that is almost unrecognisable, it has got so lost that I truely believe that they haven’t got a clue, it’s actually quite pathetic when you think about it. There is help out there for you, stay positive, and believe in yourself, if these bullies are so horrible, do you really want their friendship anyway. There are a lot of good people out there build a new social life but get well so that you are no vunerable. Rise above them, take care.

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  4. Workplace harassment and bullying is a subject which is not well known about. The act itself is known by the victims, but until someone points out exactly what the term is, can one start educating oneself and either fighting ship, or, if lucky enough to find a better job in this economy, JUMP SHIP.

    I speak from experience and PRAY this bill is passed into a LAW to protect the common worker from this needless treatment by what are nothing but dysfunctional, power hungry, managers, bosses, executives with the morals of snakes and work ethics of rats.

    When one spends approximately 1/3 of his or her life working, it need NOT be in a toxic environment!!

    • I hope that the bill is passed too. You sound very angry,that unfortunately is where they would like you to be. There is a book called the dance of anger it is worth reading it can help you see anger differently; Anger is also part of grief so use it wisely, positive mental attitude. When I was at college both my counselling teachers were also Counsel for Relate – they recomment that everyone should read the book I’m OK, Your OK. it gives you a deeper understanding, when I ever have a problem I read up on it. Hope it works for you. Take care.

  5. At the physics association where I worked, they had an unwritten tenure process at six months (all the people were former professors and their hired staff was all female)–after a job elsewhere, I came there and got taunted, tormented and joked about for that duration. More and more people piled on once they saw upper management doing it. Then they fired you if you did not pass that test. I got fired.

    Not only that, after I filed a gender discrimination claim, they are still tormenting me in legal filings, by getting even more people who barely knew me (one person met me once for one-half hour and did not work there at the time) to write false and bizarre things about me that have no bearing on any facts in the case. I still fight the feelings of shame every day, even though I did not do anything wrong.

    So I can understand the suicidal thoughts, especially of someone younger than me who had not worked as long to build confidence to fall back on. No answer, even fighting back, seems to be a satisfying solution (but I believe in playing the game until the last at bat in the ninth, even if gone is getting creamed). It is deeply hurtful to me that I am, and was, the only one to fight or stick up for me.

    We need more heroes out there who don’t stand silently by, but come forward to help the victims of bullies before it gets to the point of suicide. Legislation will create the environment for that.

    • Sister, what an amazing person you are to withstand that terrible treatment. Your courage and tenacity, plus your resilience demonstrates what’s possible for us humans. Thanks for sharing your story. You are right, legislation will provide the framework, but it is up to all of us to contain this bullying behaviour when we see it happening.

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  9. I was depressed by my current work place. I was bully by my supervisor and 3 contract staff that enage by her. I am working in a Health Care industry too, in Singapore.

    I was upset, stress and depress going to work everyday… and even have suicidal thought… Could anyone give me advise? please…

    • I’m very sorry to hear about your work situation. I’m unfamiliar with the resources that might be available to help someone in Singapore, but I would strongly recommend that you seek the assistance of someone who can help you, such as an understanding friend or family member, mental health counselor, or clergy member. The website of the Workplace Bullying Institute also may provide some guidance ( Good luck to you. David

  10. I called the National Suicide Prevention Hotline because I was very upset due to the workplace mobbing I am experiencing.

    The lady I spoke with told me that I should just ignore the bullying & then it’ll stop. She also said that instances of bullying in the workplace rarely happen.

    Anyone experiencing bullying should NOT contact this organization because their staff are woefully uninformed about the dynamics of workplace bullying.

    • Lynn, I’m very sorry to hear that you received that kind of response when you were in such a bad state.

      Generally speaking, we’re still not at a point where the mental health community sufficiently understands this form of abuse. Those within the community of advocates, practitioners, and researchers concerned with workplace bullying “get it,” but too many outside it do not.

      I hope that you were able to get sufficient counseling elsewhere.


  11. Hello,

    I am also a victim of workplace bullying. I have been working in the medical field now for 3 years and I am only 25 years old. Since I started working at my job I have faced constant harassment from my co-worker. Her and I are on a team together and must be able to cooperate and work well; however, this does not happen. For years she has been ridiculing me and has been the equivalent to an emotionally abusive relationship. Due to this abuse I have developed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which has become very damaging to myself, my personal life, and dealing with this work issue.

    I have brought up the workplace bullying problem many times with HR and upper management, but still nothing is done. I have had enough of this treatment and became burned out about a year ago, where I had to start counseling and be prescribed medication. Nothing seems to work. Counseling is such a “croc” because they tell me that I let that person affect me and just to ignore her. Excuse me? So, that is technically saying you are the problem. If I was a rape victim that would be saying you let that man rape you… victims are always being blamed and that is absolutely ludicrous! How can counselors say stupid things like that, especially to someone who is at the point of breaking? I have attempted suicide about three or four times due to my job, but each time I talked myself out of it. Medication really isn’t the solution either; it just calms my anxiety and it allows me to be able to semi-live from day to day with my PTSD. Even though I am on medication, my PTSD is constantly being set off due to my bully. A person can only handle so much and I have maximized past that point a long time ago.

    Now, three years later I have decided to quit this hellish job and continue my education. In August I am entering into graduate school to get away from this awful situation. I only have a few weeks left here and the bullying is worse now than ever. My bully acts like I don’t exist and she purposely won’t acknowledge me if I communicate with her. It has become so bad that I finally had a meeting with the head of Corporate HR and the Administrator of our medical facility. They did say this is a serious issue that needs results, but nothing has been done as of yet. Now upper management wants to move me around to different areas of the office to be away from my bully, but how is that resolving the problem? That is still punishing me instead of actively dealing with this issue. It seems that this company just doesn’t know how to solve these kinds of issues. I stood firm today and stated I will not be moved around anymore considering I am leaving in three weeks; it is too stressful to be learning new tasks this close to my quit date, and it is a waste of everyone’s time. I just don’t know what to do or how to handle myself being here in these last weeks – I know it is only three weeks, but it is an eternity to me.

    I also wanted to state why is workplace bullying not illegal? Abuse is illegal and bullying is technically abuse; it causes emotional, mental and physical violence towards an individual. I just hope this bill gets passed because people who bully need to be punished. Seriously, bullies need to grow up and realize what goes around comes around. Hopefully, one day all the victims will get the victory they so deserve and all the bullies will be left to cry alone.

  12. I am one of the people who has been bullied by supervisors for more than 6 years until I had a mental breakdown and I have been sick, physically, mentally. I have been branded all kinda of names and no matter how hard I worked I had a poor reciew

  13. I went through the same horrors and tribulations. I was fired on the same day my granddaughter died. I thought I had nothing to live for and the only reason I did not commit suicide was so my daughter who had lost her daughter would not have to live with my suicide. After about nine months, I started a support group on Face Book called Bully Free Work Place. It is has since been renamed The Starfish Project, for the legend of the all the starfish washed up on the beach and the little boy who threw them back so they could live. An old man asked, “Why do you bother? You cannot possibly save them all?” The little boy then replied, ” I made a difference to this one!” And threw another in the sea.

    David, I can understand if you take this down, but with people suffering and no place to go, perhaps you can permit my email to be included in this post. It is The group has become very stable and robust. We can at least provide a place for bullying survivors an outlet and support group.

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  16. I was bullied after receiving Employee Of The Year at the YMCA in Boise,Idaho. These were women who were married with children and I couldn’t figure out what I had done to be ridiculed in front of other employees. If I had a question These “people” ignored me. I’m so thankful I was in a support group at the time to help me know I had done nothing wrong to deserve this treatment. Having just gone thru a divorce I had a low opinion of myself as it was. Because of friends in my group I wasn’t going to quit and let them win.Don’t these type of people realize how much damage they do? I know I should have approached them individually and asked questions for their behavior. I truly believe they have to have a low opinion of themselves to treat others in this manner. I stayed until I retired 3 years later and would not let them win.

  17. I was bullied and laughed at behind my back. I had made “employee of the year” out of around 6 or 700 employees. I thank my God I didn’t react but after about 6 months I had the opportunity to change departments. They were accusing me of things but I don’t know what I had supposedly done. I was in a support group outside of work which got me thru it. How and why people are so cruel is difficult for me to understand. These women all went to church but I guess that doesn’t make them a good Christian. I was told once that anger and jealousy is based on fear which I believe but didn’t understand them while going thru this. I’m happy to say I love my new job and quite that self supporting place altogether and can look forward to going where I’m appreciated and Have a positive and appreciative job. Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. This Too Shall Pass.I probably should add I believe in Karma.

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