Yes, Your Boss Can Give You PTSD!
Kevin William Grant
Published on
November 13, 2019

The reality of workplace bullying, abuse, and harassment is becoming accepted because of the #MeToo movement.

The psychological harm trauma causes someone at work is being recognized, but it remains rare for the damage to be acknowledged as PTSD. 

Research supports the notion that your boss can give you PTSD.

Imagine this scenario—a man goes into work one day, and a senior colleague acts in an abusive and malicious way towards him. He spends the next two years suffering from the consequences of these incidents. He cannot sleep at night; he has frequent flashbacks and nightmares; he turns into a different person. The way his colleagues at work have treated him creates an ongoing depressive condition that requires psychiatric intervention. These symptoms are well-understood as indicators of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The impacts are real, and the syndrome and treatments are well understood.

Unfortunately, the majority of people understand PTSD as originating from 'stereotypical' sources. When people think of PTSD, they are likely to think of the soldiers in Afghanistan who have suffered from explosions or have been subject to extreme combat stress and personal loss.

PTSD at work is frequently thought in terms of fire-fighters, paramedics, police officers, and first responders exposed to near-death traumas under extreme conditions.

It was only in 1988 that Andrea Adam coined the term 'workplace bullying.' There is a long history of sweeping the reality of workplace PTSD under the corporate carpet. It is convenient to do so because many workplaces would need to change drastically to remove the ever-present threats of workplace PTSD.

If domestic abuse or school bullying can result in PTSD, then PTSD can also be caused by abuse in the workplace. People can be nasty to each other at work. For many employees, the workplace is where they are regularly bullying and abused by colleagues and managers. Workplaces are not safe places.

Most of us can likely pinpoint one or more examples of bullying we have experienced during our working life. These experiences may not always cause PTSD, but the consequences remain unavoidably harmful. It is estimated that one in ten people in the workplace suffers from bullying, but not all of them go on to develop PTSD.

Recently PTSD researchers have discovered that abuse in non-extreme contexts can result in the development of PTSD for some people. Dr. Thormod Idsoe from the University of Stavanger in Norway found symptoms of PTSD among 33% of a group of teenage school students who said they were victims of bullying. 'Traumatic experiences or strains imposed on us by others can often hurt more than [the original] accidents.'  PTSD can result from a single incident of violence or through a series of events taking place over a period of time.

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry has issued a policy statement recognizing bullying as a serious medical and public health issue. They recognized that PTSD could be caused by experiences beyond extreme life-threatening situations. 

Recognizing workplace PTSD will allow us to support and to stand in solidarity with those who have developed PTSD at work. It is imperative that we recognize PTSD so that victims of PTSD have access to the support they need to recover.

Acknowledging workplace PTSD is imperative because we owe all PTSD survivors human dignity, honesty, and respect.


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