WBI: A bullied nurse shares her story after surviving a suicide attempt

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We use the term “suicidal ideation” to describe frequent thoughts about suicide, especially for those at risk. But tossing in a clinical word like “ideation” has a way of sanitizing the term and drawing attention away from its core essence: Circumstances in someone’s life can be so challenging, difficult, or dire that they are thinking about suicide.

We know that workplace bullying can be associated with suicidal thoughts. Not every instance, thank goodness, but in some instances, yes. In fact, earlier this week, Dr. Gary Namie of the Workplace Bullying Institute shared this comment, publicly posted to the WBI site, from a nurse who attempted suicide after experiencing a prolonged course of workplace mistreatment.

I’m an RN, I resigned unwillingly Sept.18 from the Veterans Affair. Its difficult for me to determine if I was experiencing bullying, harassment and or discrimination but the end result an attempt to end my life July, 30th, 2015, spending 12 days in the hospital.

I was diagnosed with PTSD and medicated for nightmares while hospitalized. I’m or I was a well functioning Bipolar II. I endured (from a newly arrived nurse manager, moreover the was not my manager) bullying/harassment for 14 months,mid Jan 2014-Mar 2015 and on March 26th 2015 – June 17th she and another official came at me with a vengeance. On June 16th 2015, around 4:30 pm after entering human resources and reading false accusations, a co-worker’s description of me and a sticky on top of the charges “AL, can we ask for fitness of duty, reprimand or suspension” (I had no write-ups prior to these false charges) I started crying, I was devastated, shocked.

. . . I can’t believe or comprehend these unfathomable events, I’m lost. How can this all be happening. I suffered/suffer fear, anxiety, terror, pain, uselessness, worthlessness, impending doom, shame and guilt!!!!!!. My livelihood was taken from me.

There are at least two important points worth drawing from this personal account. First, while suicidal thoughts usually cannot be traced to a single factor, severe bullying and mistreatment at work can be among the causes. Second, we must continue to pay close attention to worklife matters in healthcare workplaces, too many of which are stressful, dysfunctional places to earn a living.

Over the years I’ve written a lot about the healthcare workplace and about suicide. Here are some pieces if you would like to learn more:

World Suicide Prevention Day, 2014: Ties to work, bullying, and the economy (2014)

Suicide and the Great Recession: Will we heed the tragic warnings? (2013)

University of Cincinnati conference examines workplace violence, bullying, and incivility in healthcare (2012)

Cheryl Dellasega’s “When Nurses Hurt Nurses” (2012)

Nursing as a Calling: Aspirations and Realities (2010)

First in a four-part series on workplace bullying in healthcare (2009)

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Suicide prevention resource in the U.S.

If you or someone you care about is having suicidal thoughts, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached around the clock at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). In addition, you can go to a hospital emergency room and ask for help.

Professional coaching

Targets of workplace bullying may consider confidential coaching by telephone offered by the Workplace Bullying Institute through Jessi Eden Brown, a licensed counselor and WBI’s professional coach. For more information, including availability and rates, go here. You may find helpful this article about her work in Counseling Today.

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5 responses

  1. I think that there is a well established culture of top down direction that even permeates the nurse rankings. Doctors have historically been totally free to order staff around with little to no courtesy because of their lifesaving function. That same ethos drives other parts of staff. Employees involved with direct patient care can be the middle of the oreo cookie getting squeezed by both sides. When this desire to help patients hits the wall of doctor or higher ranking nurse demands it is very easy to see bullying developing. There has never been a system of checks and balances in the health care profession.
    In my many years of observation and work on this issue, I have found way too many suicides and attempted suicides resulting from bullying at work. When I know 9 suicides from bullying, that says we have a major public health epidemic here!

  2. I’m currently supporting a nurse who is being bullied by a charge nurse. The charge nurse has less experience than the nurse she is bullying, but the charge nurse has a supervisory position. This is a standard practice in most hospitals and a set-up for bullying behaviors!

  3. ” I can’t believe or comprehend these unfathomable events, I’m lost. How can this all be happening. I suffered/suffer fear, anxiety, terror, pain, uselessness, worthlessness, impending doom, shame and guilt!!!!!!. My livelihood was taken from me. ” This represents what a bully feels despite the vocation. The first 2 sentences remind me how and why for the longest time, I did NOT feel anger, I felt I had lost my mind.

  4. i suspect that nursing attracts two types of people. The first type, the majority, have an abundance of empathy and want to relieve suffering. The second type, the minority, are attracted to workplaces where they can witness or cause suffering.

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