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What are the health effects of mobbing?
    The cause of stress revealed

Possible Physical and Emotional
symptoms of workplace mobbing
    Physical symptoms
    Emotional symptoms

Common symptoms of PTSD and Complex PTSD that sufferers report experiencing

How Serious are Psychological Problems after Mobbing?

Differences between mental illness and psychiatric injury - paranoia vs. hypervigilance

Other differences between mental illness and psychiatric injury

Photo - Ken Kiser

The following information compiled and used with permission.
Special thanks to Tim Field - Bully OnLine and to No Bully For Me.

What are the health effects of mobbing?

The list of negative health effects related to mobbing is long. Many of the the consequences are related to the effect of prolonged exposure to high levels of stress. Stress can be good for keeping us alert and out of danger as it allows the body to rev-up our heart rate and breathing to deal with physical threats to life and limb.

However in our modern work world we are more likely to face threats of a psychological nature, something our fight or flight mechanism (stress response) was not designed for. The stress response can also be triggered by anticipation of non-life-threatening events such as financial problems, job security, maritial problems, etc. These stressors besiege not only mobbing targets but their families and friends as well, compounding and exacerbating an already debilitating situation.

The cause of stress revealed


The truth about stress management, stress relief, stress at work, stress on the job, workplace stress, job stress etc.

Stress. It's on everyone's mind. Or rather their body. But what causes stress? If you've been sent on a stress management course, or its cheaper alternative, a stress awareness course, the chances are you'll have not learnt much about the causes of stress. You may know how to clench your buttocks then release as you breath out (hopefully not requiring a change of underwear), but the only way of dealing with stress is to identify the cause and then work to reduce or eliminate the cause. Despite the need for risk assessment and stress audits, many employers are coy about the causes of stress. Encouraging employees to endure prolonged negative stress - such as by forcing them to attend a stress management seminar - could be setting them up to sustain further injury to health and stress-related illness.

It's often not recognised that there are two types of stress: positive stress results from a well-managed workplace and can be harnessed to enhance performance, whilst negative stress - which results in stress-related illnesses and causes injury to health - results from a badly-managed workplace in which inadequate employees bully to hide their inadequacy. When people use the word "stress" on its own, they usually mean "negative stress".
Stress is not the employee's inability to cope with excessive workload or the unwelcome attentions of bullying co-workers and managers; stress is a consequence of the employer's failure to provide a safe workplace.

Different people respond with different degrees of stress to different stressors. However, there are at least four factors which determine the degree to which one will feel stressed:

  • Control: a person feels stressed to the extent to which they perceive they are not in control of the stressor; at work, employees have no control over their management
  • Predictability: a person feels stressed to the extent to which they are unable to predict the behaviour or occurrence of the stressor (bullies are notoriously unpredictable in their behaviour)
  • Expectation: a person feels stressed to the extent to which they perceive their circumstances are not improving and will not improve (a bullying situation almost always gets worse, especially as one gains insight into the cause)
  • Support: a person feels stressed to the extent to which they lack support systems, including work colleagues, management, personnel, union, partner, family, friends, persons in authority, official bodies, professionals, and the law

Continued below...

Cartoon courtesy Carol Simpson DesignWorks
Used with permission, courtesy Carol Simpson DesignWorks

Once the stress response is activated, the body's energy is diverted to where it is needed, thus heart rate, blood pressure and breathing rate increase. All non-essential body functions are temporarily shut down or operate at reduced level; these include digestion, growth, sexual systems (menstrual cycle, libido, testosterone production), immune system, storage of energy as fat, etc. In response to threat, glucose, proteins and fats are rapidly released from storage (in muscles, fat cells and liver) and energy becomes abundantly available to those muscles which will help you fight the danger or run away from it. In extreme cases bowels and bladder will spontaneously evacuate to lighten the load; the smell may also help to deter the attacker. There is no point in digestion, reproduction and immune system etc continuing to operate if you're likely to be the sabre-toothed tiger's dinner in the next ten minutes - better divert that energy into avoiding being on the menu.

Therefore, the prospect of going to work, or the thought or sound of the bully approaching immediately activates the stress response, but fighting or flight are both inappropriate. In repeated bullying, the stress response prepares the body to respond physically when what is required is an employer-wide anti-bullying policy, knowledge of bullying motivations and tactics, assertive responses to defend ourselves against unwarranted verbal and physical harassment, and effective laws against bullying as an ultimate deterrent or arbiter when all else fails.



The fatigue caused by bullying is understandable when you realise that the body's fight or flight mechanism ultimately becomes activated for long periods, sometimes semi-permanently. For a person with a regular daytime job, the activation can last from Sunday evening - at the prospect of having to go to work the following day - through to the following Saturday morning - at the prospect of two days relief.

The fight or flight mechanism is designed to operate briefly and intermittently, but when activated for abnormally long periods, causes the body's physical, mental and emotional batteries to drain dry. Energy stored in the body as protein, glycogen and triglycerides is rapidly converted back to amino acids, glucose and fatty acids etc to help the body deal with the perceived threat. The process of conversion, achieved via the release of stress hormones such as glucocorticoids, glucagon, epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine (noradrenaline), itself consumes energy. The stress hormones also trigger the conversion of protein in those muscles not required for fight or flight into amino acids.

Whilst the human body is capable of withstanding considerable levels and periods of stress, when the stress response is turned on for long periods, the body inevitably sustains damage through prolonged raised levels of glucocorticoids (which are toxic to brain cells), excessive depletion of energy reserves, resulting in fatigue, loss of strength and stamina, muscle wastage (as in steroid myopathy when patients receive large doses of glucocorticoids to treat various illnesses), and adult-onset diabetes.

At the weekend and days off, the weakened immune system cannot fight off viruses (eg colds, flu, glandular fever etc) and the person suffers constant illnesses during which the batteries do not recharge. Even without viral infection, the obsessiveness and disturbed sleeping patterns prevent the body from replenishing stored energy. Reactivation of the fight or flight mechanism prior to returning to work produces a flow of stress hormones which appear to temporarily suppress the effects of illness.

Possible Physical and Emotional symptoms of workplace mobbing

Workplace mobbbing can cause a whole range of health problems, some manifesting themselves as physical symptoms and others as psychological effects.

If you catch your situation early enough you may well get through the situation without any damage to your health; we would not want anyone to believe that some of the severe health consequences mentioned here are inevitable. Though, as Dr. Gary Namie says, the personality type most likely to be bullied are also those who are likely to 'stay longest and get most damaged'.

What follows is by no means an exhaustive list - just some of the most common symptoms.

Generally the worse you are being bullied and the longer it continues, the more symptoms you will have. The degree to which you experience any or all of these effects also depends on the intensity of the targeting, and your social support structure.


Physical symptoms:

  • Reduced immunity to infection leading to frequent colds, coughs, flu, glandular fever, etc (especially on days off, eg weekends and holidays)
  • Chest pains and angina
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart attacks
  • Strokes
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Loss of appetite (although a few people react by overeating)
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Reactive vomiting before, during or after meetings (or at the site of a "triggering" incident, person, place or thing or from just the thought of going to certain locations ie workplace)
  • Skin irritations and skin disorders (eg eczema, psoriasis, shingles, internal and external ulcers, urticaria)
  • Hormonal problems (disturbed menstrual cycle, dysmenorrhoea, loss of libido, impotence)
  • Unusual clumsiness (such as an inability to grasp small objects, separate sheets of paper or tendency to drop cups,etc.)
  • Sleep problems including nightmares and waking early
  • Disturbance of balance
  • Panic attacks, feelings of nervousness and anxiety, excessive sweating, trembling, palpitations
  • Joint and muscle pains with no obvious cause
  • Back pain
  • Excessive need to bite or teeth grinding
  • Tics
  • Scratching
  • Physical numbness, especially in fingers, toes and lips
  • Eye problems, such as new prescriptions needed "virtually overnight"
  • Dislike of loud noises and bright lights
  • Development of new allergies


Emotional symptoms:

  • Bewilderment and confusion, an inability to understand what is happening or why it happened
  • A strong sense of denial, an inability to convince yourself that the experience was real; your denial is reinforced by the denial of those around you and especially of people in authority
  • Tearfulness
  • Irritability, short-temperedness, sudden intense anger and occasional violent outbursts
  • Hyperawareness, an acute sense of time passing, the seasons changing, distances when travelling
  • An enhanced environmental awareness, a greater respect for the natural world, a feeling of "wanting to save the planet"
  • Hypervigilance, which feels like but is not paranoia, and which may be (sometimes deliberately) mislabelled as paranoia by those around you
  • Flashbacks and replays which you are unable to switch off
  • Impaired memory, forgetfulness, memory which is intermittent, especially of day-to-day trivial things
  • Difficulty in learning new information
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Exaggerated startle response
  • Hypersensitivity - almost every action or remark is perceived as critical or threatening, even when you know it isn't
  • A deep sense of betrayal
  • Obsessiveness - the experience takes over your life, you can't get it out of your mind
  • Depression (reactive, not endogenous)
  • Excessive shame, embarrassment and guilt
  • Undue fear
  • Low self-esteem and low self-confidence
  • A deep sense of unworthiness, undeservingness and non-entitlement
  • Emotional numbness, anhedonia, an inability to feel love or joy
  • Sullenness (a sign the inner psyche has been damaged)
  • Detachment, avoidance of anything that reminds you of the experience
  • Physical and mental paralysis at any reminder of the experience
  • Increased reliance on drugs (caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, sleeping tablets, tranquillisers, antidepressants, other substances) resulting in further compromised health
  • Comfort spending (and consequent financial problems)
  • Thoughts of suicide and in some cases homicide

Increasingly researchers are suggesting that diabetes, asthma, allergies, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis (MS), chronic fatigue syndrome (ME), hydradentitis supurativa (painful skin disorder) and even some forms of cancer are caused or aggravated by stress.


Common symptoms of PTSD and Complex PTSD
that sufferers report experiencing

  • Hypervigilance (feels like but is not paranoia)
  • Exaggerated startle response
  • Tearfulness
  • Irritability
  • Sudden angry or violent outbursts
  • Flashbacks, nightmares, intrusive recollections, replays, violent visualisations
  • Triggers
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Exhaustion and chronic fatigue
  • Reactive depression
  • Guilt
  • Feelings of detachment
  • Avoidance behaviours
  • Nervousness, anxiety
  • Phobias about specific daily routines, events or objects
  • Irrational or impulsive behaviour
  • Loss of interest
  • Loss of ambition
  • Anhedonia (inability to feel joy and pleasure)
  • Poor concentration
  • Impaired memory
  • Joint pains, muscle pains
  • Emotional numbness
  • Physical numbness
  • Low self-esteem
  • Loss of libido
  • An overwhelming sense of injustice and a strong desire to do something about it


How Serious are Psychological Problems after Mobbing?
© Heinz Leymann - file 32100e - The Mobbing Encyclopaedia

If we compare the difficulty of diagnosing our patients with that of, for example, individuals who have run-over and killed suicidal persons on train (Malt, Leymann et al., 1993) or subway tracks (Theorell, Leymann, Jodko, Konarski, & Norbeck, 1994), we see pronounced differences. In general, people seem to be able to intuitively imagine how it must feel to try to brake a train that weighs hundreds of tons and how it feels, despite these desperate efforts, to finally run over the person who has laid on the tracks in order to die. Nevertheless, the driver´s PTSD reaction is - statistically speaking - very much milder than that of our patients. Also, a considerably smaller proportion of train engineers suffer a PTSD reaction or share severe PTSD diagnose. Indeed the number is very small in comparison with that which prevails for patients such as ours, who almost all were diagnosed as having severe PTSD. This comparison might illustrate what the latter group of patients must have gone through in terms of psychological pain, anxiety, degradation, helplessness - that led to such extensive PTSD injuries. The reactions of our patients can, on the other hand, , be compared with those accounted for in a Norwegian study concerning raped women (Dahl, 1989).

Mobbing and expulsion from the labor market
are in themselves victimizations of
trauma-inducing strength.

By way of comparison with the high incidence of PTSD, it may be of interest to mention what the investigation of Swedish and Norwegian train engineers revealed, after the engineers had run over and killed suicidal individuals on the tracks: The frequency of high "intrusion" and "avoidance" values were considerably lower than in the present study (Malt, Karlehagen, Leymann, 1993). Even a study which mapped psychological problems in subway drivers in Stockholm shows a considerably lower frequency of drivers who developed psychological problems after having run over suicidal individuals on the tracks (Theorell and Leymann, 1994). The above-mentioned study of raped women shows very high values on the two IES scales (see also Dahl, 1989). We recommend as a hypothesis that high IES values are present if the traumatic event is followed by a series of further violations of the subjects´ rights and insults to their identities from different societal sources (Leymann, 1989). This did not occur in the groups of engineers but it did occur in cases of raped women - and, of course, in the mobbed employees in question in my studies. Mobbing and expulsion from the labor market are in themselves victimizations of trauma-inducing strength.

Our present hypothesis is that PTSD develops more severely if the traumatic situations last a long time and are followed by rights violations such as those conflicted by the judicial system or within the health care community, continue over a long period. Leymann (1989) carried out a major review of the literature concerning catastrophe psychiatry and victimology based on about 25,000 pages of scientific text. The objective was to make an inventory of the disappointments, insults and renewed traumas that follow an initial "causal trauma" - a trauma which thereafter leads to what is called "traumatizing consequential events", due to society's structure and the way it functions. Many of these traumata are provoked by the way administrative instances deal with or abstain from dealing with the situation.

The mobbed employee who has become our patient suffers from a traumatic environment: psychiatric, social insurance office, personnel department, managers, co-workers, labor unions, doctors in general practice, company health care, etc., can, if events progress unfavorably, produce worse and worse traumata.

Thus, our patients, like raped women, find themselves under a continuing threat. As long as the perpetrator is free, the woman can be attacked again. As long as the mobbed individual does not receive effective support, he or she can be torn to pieces again at any time.

Torn out of their social network, the majority of
mobbing victims face the threat of early retirement,
with permanent psychological damage.

Thus, these individuals find themselves in a prolonged stress - and in a prolonged trauma-creating situation. Instead of a short, acute (and normal!) PTSD reaction that can subside after several days or weeks, theirs is constantly renewed: new traumata and new sources of anxiety arise in a constant stream during which time the individual experiences rights violations that further undermine his or her self-confidence and psychological health. The unwieldy social situation for these individuals consists not only of severe psychological trauma but of an extremely prolonged stress condition that seriously threatens the individual's socio-economic existence. Torn out of their social network, the majority of mobbing victims face the threat of early retirement, with permanent psychological damage.


Differences between mental illness and psychiatric injury

The person who is being bullied will eventually say something like "I think I'm being paranoid..."; however they are correctly identifying hypervigilance, a symptom of PTSD, but using the popular but misunderstood word paranoia. The differences between hypervigilance and paranoia make a good starting point for identifying the differences between mental illness and psychiatric injury.

Paranoia Hypervigilance
paranoia is a form of mental illness; the cause is thought to be internal, eg a minor variation in the balance of brain chemistry is a response to an external event (violence, accident, disaster, violation, intrusion, bullying, etc) and therefore an injury
paranoia tends to endure and to not get better of its own accord wears off (gets better), albeit slowly, when the person is out of and away from the situation which was the cause
the paranoiac will not admit to feeling paranoid, as they cannot see their paranoia the hypervigilant person is acutely aware of their hypervigilance, and will easily articulate their fear, albeit using the incorrect but popularised word "paranoia"
sometimes responds to drug treatment drugs are not viewed favourably by hypervigilant people, except in extreme circumstances, and then only briefly; often drugs have no effect, or can make things worse, sometimes interfering with the body's own healing process
the paranoiac often has delusions of grandeur; the delusional aspects of paranoia feature in other forms of mental illness, such as schizophrenia the hypervigilant person often has a diminished sense of self-worth, sometimes dramatically so
the paranoiac is convinced of their self-importance the hypervigilant person is often convinced of their worthlessness and will often deny their value to others
paranoia is often seen in conjunction with other symptoms of mental illness, but not in conjunction with symptoms of PTSD hypervigilance is seen in conjunction with other symptoms of PTSD, but not in conjunction with symptoms of mental illness
the paranoiac is convinced of their plausibility the hypervigilant person is aware of how implausible their experience sounds and often doesn't want to believe it themselves (disbelief and denial)
the paranoiac feels persecuted by a person or persons unknown (eg "they're out to get me") the hypervigilant person is hypersensitized but is often aware of the inappropriateness of their heightened sensitivity, and can identify the person responsible for their psychiatric injury
sense of persecution heightened sense of vulnerability to victimisation
the sense of persecution felt by the paranoiac is a delusion, for usually no-one is out to get them the hypervigilant person's sense of threat is well-founded, for the serial bully is out to get rid of them and has often coerced others into assisting, eg through mobbing; the hypervigilant person often cannot (and refuses to) see that the serial bully is doing everything possible to get rid of them
the paranoiac is on constant alert because they know someone is out to get them the hypervigilant person is on alert in case there is danger
the paranoiac is certain of their belief and their behaviour and expects others to share that certainty the hypervigilant person cannot bring themselves to believe that the bully cannot and will not see the effect their behaviour is having; they cling naively to the mistaken belief that the bully will recognise their wrongdoing and apologise


Other differences between mental illness and psychiatric injury:

Mental illness Psychiatric injury
the cause often cannot be identified the cause is easily identifiable and verifiable, but denied by those who are accountable
the person may be incoherent or what they say doesn't make sense the person is often articulate but prevented from articulation by being traumatised
the person may appear to be obsessed the person is obsessive, especially in relation to identifying the cause of their injury and both dealing with the cause and effecting their recovery
the person is oblivious to their behaviour and the effect it has on others the person is in a state of acute self-awareness and aware of their state, but often unable to explain it
the depression is a clinical or endogenous depression the depression is reactive; the chemistry is different to endogenous depression
there may be a history of depression in the family there is very often no history of depression in the individual or their family
the person has usually exhibited mental health problems before often there is no history of mental health problems
may respond inappropriately to the needs and concerns of others responds empathically to the needs and concerns of others, despite their own injury
displays a certitude about themselves, their circumstances and their actions is often highly sceptical about their condition and circumstances and is in a state of disbelief and bewilderment which they will easily and often articulate ("I can't believe this is happening to me" and "Why me?" - click here for the answer)
may suffer a persecution complex may experience an unusually heightened sense of vulnerability to possible victimisation (ie hypervigilance)
suicidal thoughts are the result of despair, dejection and hopelessness suicidal thoughts are often a logical and carefully thought-out solution or conclusion
exhibits despair is driven by the anger of injustice
often doesn't look forward to each new day looks forward to each new day as an opportunity to fight for justice
is often ready to give in or admit defeat refuses to be beaten, refuses to give up


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You take my life when you do take the means whereby I live.

~ William Shakespear, The Merchant of Venice. Act iv. Sc. 1


We're just honest working men that have been pushed
so far and so hard that we can't keep it up any longer.

~ Frances O'Rourke, 1937 UAW sitdown striker

Video Library
The Corporation
Interview with a Target of
Workplace Bullying

by John Peel
on Home Truths,
BBC Radio 4

Courtesy BullyEQ


Calgary Herald
"...grossly unacceptable employer behaviour."
"There was a lot of bullying in the newsroom and it was a gift to be able to stand up and say we are prepared to do something about it."

Canwest Global
"The CanWest corporation is showing the ugly and intolerant face of modern media," ... "While openly interfering in editorial content it cravenly punishes those journalists who have the courage to protest."
"Many journalists left CanWest, deciding to quit or take disability leave after the frigid mood of their newsrooms made them ill."
> Canwest Watch

Imperial Parking
"Timothy Lloyd decided he had had enough of "going in to war every day." ... I was very unhappy in my work -- burned out, stressed out ... There were constant threats of dismissal, constant invading of my personal space, and use of profanity that was personally directed at me."
> HealthSmith

Annuity Research & Marketing Service Ltd.
"Every employer, said Justice Dambrot, owes a contractual duty to its employees to “treat them fairly, with civility, decency, respect, and dignity.” By failing to protect Ms. Stamos from Mr. Hammami’s harassment, the court concluded that the employer had breached this contractual duty."
> Labor Relations Consultants

If you found a quote on the web that we should add here just email us the quote and the URL.

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