Trickle-down abuse: Workplace bullying, depression, and kids

We know that severe workplace bullying can trigger or exacerbate clinical depression in its targets. But that’s not all: In making our case for taking this form of abuse seriously, we also need to acknowledge how children become the secondary victims of bullying-induced depression.

Parental depression and kids

Writing recently for the New York Times, Dr. Perri Klass observes that “a parent’s depression, it turns out, can be linked to all kinds of problems, even in the lives of older children.” She continues:

Depression damages the interactions between parents and children, and disrupts family routines and rituals. Children with a depressed parent are themselves more likely to manifest symptoms of depression, research shows, along with other psychiatric problems and behavior issues. They are more likely to make visits to the emergency room and more likely to be injured.

. . . Depression may become part of a vicious cycle in these families: An overwhelmed and depressed parent is less able to follow a complex medical regimen, and a child ends up in the emergency room or the hospital, creating more pressure and more stress for the family.

Workplace bullying>depression>women>kids

Bullying-induced depression can impact parental care provided by mothers and fathers alike. But I suggest that there’s a disparate impact on women. Let’s connect the dots:

1. Depression is one of the most common effects of workplace bullying.

2. According to studies conducted by the Workplace Bullying Institute, women are more likely to be bullying targets than men, at least in the U.S.

3. Women, married or single/separated, are more likely to be primary caregivers to their children.

In other words, the evidence suggests that we’ve got a cohort of bullied, depressed moms out there, and the pain of their experience at work is being passed on to their kids at home.

Single moms singled out?

Also, I’m going to re-float my thesis that single mothers are disproportionately targeted:

. . . (W)hile conceding that my impressions are anecdotal, I have found that, in my countless unsolicited exchanges with targets seeking legal referrals, unmarried women in their 30s or older, many of whom are single parents, appear to be disproportionately on the receiving end of some of the worst forms of bullying at work.

It makes sense, sadly.  Let’s start with the observation that truly abusive bullies often have a knack for sniffing out vulnerable individuals.  Then we look at potential targets: Demographically speaking, is there any group more vulnerable than single women raising kids?  They already are juggling work and caregiving, their schedules seem timed down to the minute, and not infrequently they are struggling financially — especially if there is no father in the picture.

Bottom line

Targets suffer, their kids suffer, society suffers. We all pay for workplace bullying, but some pay a much higher price.


More information

In her column, Dr. Klass cites a 2009 report, Depression in Parents, Parenting, and Children, by the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council. A summary can be accessed here.

17 responses

  1. The impact of a bully is similar to receiving a few hits to the chest and head. It’s hard to breath, think or see clearly. That’s just the physical implication. The internal scarring is much worse. If you have allowed it to continue for a very long time, the bullying will likely cause some very deep emotional and psychological wounds.

    In the false dilemma of keeping my job back in 2006, I endured a psychotic, un-remoreseful, self-medicated bully. By the time I exited that company a great deal of damage had been done. As a 50-year old male, I really do not like talking about the situation publicly although I realize there are some other men who would likely benefit.

    Regardless of the countless issues is caused me, the toxic disease also impacted members of my family, specifically my wife, who had to care for me and help make decisions for me during very dark days of my physical and mental symptoms, and one of my daughters, who now faces anxiety most every day.

    The perpetrator stole from me and my family. In the name of a paycheck, he believed he could steal my freedoms as an American and abuse me, take away vital sections of my vibrant personality, and create psychological violence on my family and me.

    He is not a criminal in the U.S. Yet, he is one who earns money unethically by terrorizing his targets one by one. I have forgiven him. That was a choice I made to release his grip from me.

    Today I have a unstoppable passion to help CEOs create great workplaces built on trust and respect. This is a case where I took something meant for harm and turned it positive.

    Kevin Kennemer
    The Chief People Officer

    • Kevin, as always, thank you for sharing this, as well as for your leadership in promoting healthier workplaces than the one you left. The change we seek will come in large part from people like you, who have harnessed these terrible work situations to move them toward advocating for positive change.


  2. Thank you ever so much for keeping the fight going and staying with it. The article was well written and the content holds enormous truth. I am spiraling in my PTSD and often I marvel at how I am even able to get out of bed. Right now it is still nightmares EVERY night and this past week sleep has been ended in the morning with a profuse sweating. I arise in anxiety and realize that I am alive. I lay there and the tears roll out of the corners of my eyes. This continues just long enough that I can rid myself of the slight shiver. There is a heaviness in my belly… somewhat of a knot. I realize that this is real and all has in fact happened.

    Because I am a single mom raising children (little Juvenile Diabetic one included), I force myself daily to move and come out of the bedroom, where I’d covered the windows in a very dark colored sheet in order to block out light. Most often I wish that I never had to speak or that I could lay here and just go through the manual tasked of caring for my kids until they are big and self reliant. I know that this is not possible because I have a mortgage and bills. I don’t know what will happen to my family. I wish I could just lay in this dark room after every task I complete to care for them. Instead I have to worry about bills and get up to be productive searching for employment in papers and online through water filled eyes.

    I am a very positive person and at first it was shock and depression and regret, now hatred and anger is within me, to share space with anxiety and grief and mourning what I went through and now subsequently what we are going through financially. It harms my kids.

    What is so very true is that the charisma and positivity and carefree smiles that were descriptive of me prior to this all…… is now gone. Stolen-taken from me with no repercussions. I feel like the entire me was nearly taken. I have but only a fraction of myself left and it is not the best parts.

    • It makes me very sad to read your story, yet I want to thank for sharing what this means on the most human level. Your account is more telling than all the studies and theories I could garner. I realize it will not be easy, but I hope that you will find the path toward reclaiming your best essence.


  3. Great article David and very accurate. Bullying is of course very devastating, another thing and of course bullying is the worse case scenario i guess, but on a lighter but still irritating and harmful note, is ongoing regular just a nasty boss, or coworker that is innapropriate or gruff or says whatever they want, making the day just miserable. It happens all of the time. We have seen all levels of it and all variations of it. for example ive seen some one come in 5 minutes late for work and ive heard a boss yell and scream and say things like, you bette rhave your ass in here on time tomorrow or you will be gone. I can come up with a thousand ways and different scenarios and you have herd most of them, the point is employers can be cruel and sometimes get the idea that they own you and they are doing you a favor by giving you a job. It simply is not true!! It is a give and take situation the employee is just as valuable as the employer. Employers make mistakes too, all of the time, generally you do not see the employee start swearing at the Employer, they dont dare, they are afraid of being fired. As far as i am concerned it is equal. You can play it or slice it and dice it any way you want. For example one could argue well the Employer holds the insurance, and liability. Fine, the employee has to do the job and is many times at risk for injury and is willing to tke that risk to get the job done. The employer provides the health insurance, so that makes them King! bull, today there rarely is no heealthcare that is not paid partialy by the employee. It is equal all of the way around and i will argue it all day long. The employer provides the job and the employee provides the skills to get the job done. Lets see how far the Employer gets without any employees!!!! There is no reson for an employer to make a work environment miserable, uncomfortable, or threatening any more than it is ok for an employee to do that either. But it happens all of the time every day across the world, becuase they think, the employer thinks they own the employee point blank and they do not. Slavery is over!!!!!!!!!!!! I recently have tried volunteering with a local catholic organization to try and take steps to get back to work, and the people i spole with were gruff, and were not very friendly, i felt like screw it, i dont need this, i am trying to get ovet PTSD from being bullied. Where employees certainly need to be tough too, we do deserve to be treated like human beings. You would be surprised at what abuse i have seen in hospitals and with Police Departments beating on people already handcuffed and shackled. It happens every day and the process of trying to do anything about it is long if not impossible, It needs to stop point blank!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Mel, I wish it wasn’t so on point! But the collateral damage caused by workplace bullying is so significant, and we have talk up that point more, as painful as it is. Thank you for your comment.

  4. David,

    I’m an I/O student and stumbled upon your site recently. I’m already a follower.

    This is a really interesting series of observations. Do you believe that not enough emphasis is put on the movement to reduce workplace bullying? I’m inclined to think that more would be accomplished by identifying and eliminating bullies than treating potential victims for depression. Is there any great literature on specific efforts to reduce bully behaviors in the workplace?

    • You raise interesting questions re organizational responses vs. counseling targets. We need both, obviously. I’ll have more to say about these types of issues in future blog posts.

  5. David i have a question that is a little but no so far off of the topic, as you know i have been out of work 16 months now since i was fired for developing PTSD as a result of workplace bullying. The progress is slow. Has there been any discussion that you are aware of that leans toward any kind of program in the future that may help rehabilitate targets and help get us back to work? i would be willing to head a drive towards that end if i knew where to start. Let me know your thoughts. Counseling is slow and with the PTSD it seems almost impossible to even think about just to try working.

  6. David, I was very priviledged to hear your address at the International Ombudsman’s conference in Houston Texas in April and I’m continuing to find out more about your work in dealing with workplace bullying. One of my roles at the University of Auckland, New Zealand is to promote strategies to prevent workplace bullying. My role is one of informal approaches using early intervention and working with both the accused perpetrator and the self described target (although not together). I’m interested in any thoughts you and others might have about the ethics and efficacy of this approach because while I hear good feedback from staff who have been involved in the coaching I’ve done or have observed positive changes occurring in others, I’d hate to be somehow and inadvertantly contributing to the problem of wpb rather than assisting a solution.

  7. As a dedicated employee of the agency I currently work for during the past eleven years, I have been a target of vicious workplace bullying for the past six plus years. I have, also, been one of the more vocal employees by identifying the mistreatment, attempting to seek help for it, and finding that after years of effort doing so, my efforts to seek help, fall on deaf ears, so to speak.

    Even though more and more corporations are coming forward in opposition to this new bill, presenting the rationale that the current laws and policies are sufficient, that rationale is simply not true.

    When I started going through the appropriate channels requesting appropriate support with the issues that I had, which were well-documented through inappropriate e-mails sent to me, unprofessional and verbally aggressive behavior directed at me in front of other employees, as well as the executive director, I did not receive the help I needed. Instead, the bullying became even more fierce and unrelenting.

    I still work in the same toxic environment simply because I need my job. I have a teenage daughter at home and she needs stability. Out employment sector is so unstable, at this time.

    However, without the passage of this bill countless employees will continue to be exposed to bullying’s harmful effects. I notice that my attendance suffers, as I take off more days than I need to due to the stressful side effects on my well-being. My daughter takes off more days from school then she would otherwise need to because her mother comes home so stressed, at times, that she is not able to be present for her daughter’s needs.

    My daughter and I have talked about this issue in therapy. My daughter feels powerless over the impact that bullying has on her mother, and she feels that part of her childhood has been taken away from her. I have contacted a couple of attorneys, as well. At this point in time, there is not a concrete specific solution to this situation.

    I truly do believe that school yard bullies grow up to be workplace bullies unless there is a change of heart and/or a protocol set up to monitor the issues. My direct supervisor, the bully, has had innumerable opportunities to correct herself, and her supervisor the executive director, has had innumerable opportunities to require that she be exposed to the training needed to correct her unprofessional, shaming, overtly caustic targeting of certain employees to inaccurate statements about their job performances and character.

    • After reading the above information in more detail, I wish to add that I am a single mother, over 30 years of age, attempting to makes ends meet on one income.

      • David you are an Attorney, i was wondering if you can make any sense out of this. A year ago i was awarded workers comp for my work related stress and PTSD. The carrier failed to file their prehearing paper work in time, so the judge said they waived their defenses. I had a long letter from my treating psychologist tht stated i was severely abused at work. The insurance company for the employer appealed, they lost the appeal and i was granted the workers comp. I have continued in therapy and was just starting to make some good progress volunteering for Catholic charities helping seniors fix their homes trying to get my faith back and get back into the world. A year ago the insurance co for the employer appealed the 3 panel decison and asked for a full board review. I never heard nothing ithas been a year. I got a letter friday from workers comp stating that it was decided that a full board review was not neccesary and the same 3 board panel amended the original finding that had ruled in my favor stating that the carrier did waive their defenses but that does not relieve me of meeting my burden of proof which they claim is that my psychologist did not prove that i was treated any worse than anyone else that i worked with. Referring to smith vs albany sherrifs dept. as their reference. Also they have stated that i have not proven that the abuse i went through was not related to disciplinary action, demotion, transfer or some other disciplinary thing. I have many times stated to workers comp that in 16 years of employment i was never written up, or discipined, there was no demotion and or transfer. I asked the insurance company to provide proof from the employer of anything different ., they could not because it does not exist.So basically a person can be psychologically injured, abused, tormented and humiliated and threatened and because you cannot prove that it was any worse than what other employees suffered but it made you sick you have no case? What to hell? Does this make any sense to you? Several times the carrier kept bringing up and construing a statement on my c-3 form where a question was asked did anyone witness the abuse or injury? I answered yes several employees over the years, and the carrier kept construing that as i was saying several other employees were also abused, i finally after 3 letters to workers comp and 3 copies of the c-3 form was able to prove that what i said was several other employees witnessed the abuse. Yet they still want me to prove my injury was worse than other employees. No one else got sick, and no one has stated that other employees were even abused. If i was inured and workers comp stated in this recent amendment that i was based on my psychologist notes, then why do i have to prove anything else? Also the carrier asked for an independent medical exam, i went to it and the psychiatrist found me to be depressed, with PTSD due to abuse at work and could not possibly return to work at this time. I am confused.

      • Hi Mel, if you don’t have an attorney already, you need one to advise you through this, preferably someone well versed in your state’s workers’ comp law. (Because of ethical rules that apply to attorneys, I do not provide legal advice on specific matters via this blog.) Good luck toward resolving this situation. David

  8. Hi David, first of all I wan’t to thank you for being an advocate against work place bullying. I was released from my job more than 6 months ago because of what the company described as a serious illness to seek further treatment. Weeks before I was released they send me to a clinic in a remote village were the company is located after I reported experiencing health problems. I’m being overcomed with fear, shaking, unable to sleep and other symptoms. I managed to go to two medical appointments before I was completely overcomed by fear. I had a breakdown with my HR manager and asked to quit but changed my mind because of my obligations to my dependents. We somehow just ended up for them just to release me because of medical problems. At that time, I was trying to ask them if they could pay for medical because I wont be able to afford it. She managed to sway me and advised me that I can use my own insurance for medical costs and how about my savings. I told her I have dependents so I don’t have much. I ended up flying out of the place with a medical release from the company. I felt at that time if I won’t get out of there, I either get killed or die of illness.

    I had life threats while employed over there for quite a while but I think the last episode of threat got me. I was given a knife scare by one of the other employees. The problem started on early years of employment in the company. I was experiencing bullying, intimidation, ridicule and actual physical abuse and started voicing it out. At first I thought that this can’t be happening, not here in America. I was trying to pinpoint to the company of what the problem is. I thought that a culture have been developed in the company, abusive power by a group. A lot of words have been exchanged the following years. I was trying to convince them that we are in a situation and tried to make improvements which is not impossible. We need to change the culture developed here. Culture is a way of life, it needs to be changed. At that time that unfavorable working environment seemed to be normal in the company. My trouble started when I began to speak out and when they realized what I was trying to do. Death threats came into play and worst when I linked the management as part of the problem. “We have to take care of these abuses, the Power, the System and the Enablers” They seem to miss the missing part of the equation. Add all these equals victims. In the group defense I was called americanized. That I seemed to have forgotten the country where I came from. I came back with quite the opposite. The company or HR was also trying to point out that it is primarily a problem of people in the country where we came from. Told her I resent that, majority of my country of origin does not think in that way of life. Only abusive few that unfortunately have taken a big toll that is pulling my country down. And some of these few seemed to make it up here in the company, they want to divide us into upper and lower classes (I was referred to being in the lower class, that is why I came up with that). That thinking by the way is against american culture that everybody is should be equal. I’ve have also been attacked as an ex US military person, that made a lot of veterans mad. I could go on and on, it happened for about 5 years.

    I tried to convince management HR, that in order for this to improve that they have to admit we have a problem. Its the only way to start healing for the better. (its actually a no brainer, much like management 101).

    Anyway back to reality. I’m now out of work, my illness seemed to be getting worse, I was momentarily homeless, can’t support my dependents. I’m now living temporarily with my sister and her family, putting up with me coz I can’t seem to function well at times. She pointed out that I have not been out of the house since I got here. I’m currently on the process of claiming workers comp, that the company seemed to be stalling by not responding. I just mailed a claim that is going to the board, since the company ignored my ROI. I actually thought while going through this hardship, I should have just kept my mouth shut and put with it. Like majority of workers in there, at least they can continue to feed their families. But then again, if I did not, I wont be able to do my job in the company the right way. Then I get more trouble from the company and they will have a reason to fire me.

    While browsing about workers comp, I came accross sites of advocates to stop this kind of injustice. Please keep on voicing out and educate.

    • Its me again. I just want to bring out some issues that were stalled by our company HR. Bullying is a work place hazard and the company have the responsibility to provide a work place free of these. Since me among others have identified identified this hazard, the company should have taken steps to prevent them. I also suggested to HR that policies should be made to rid the abuses, the power, the system and the enablers. They have too much power that it spills over to our security. The company turns the other cheek when abuses were clearly commited by power(another novel).

      Power have a system which is like a foundation for thriving there, good example is positions (supervisor and other good positions, that are just dreams for others to have) are largely occupied by about four families and their close associates. How about a policy to take out that foundation. That explained a death threat by a member of power in a heated time. I reported the name to HR. HR stalled by saying for me to write the policies. (Hello… I’m just a high school graduate) I overheard a comment by a prominent member of the local community. No enabling, hows that for a policy.

      My point is, it is not impossible to take some steps towards resolving these problems. There is a way somehow to resolve them. Our local unions are also aware of these but says they have no control on how employees are being placed.

      As I’ve said, events took place for about 5 years and these are just a small fraction of what happened.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: