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