According to the National Bullying Helpline one in four employees has been bullied at work and half of these have been affected in terms of their physical or mental health as a result. While stress is a widely appreciated consequence of bullying, not many people realise it can also leave victims more vulnerable to infections, cancer and heart disease. However, these are just a few of the adverse effects that bullying can have on the body. Here we take a look at some of the implications for mental and physical health that can occur.
Consequences for mental well-being
Anxiety is commonly seen amongst workers who are bullied and may lead to sleeping difficulties and panic attacks; it is therefore no surprise that performance will often suffer and increased absence from work will be seen. In conjunction with this, depressed mood and loss of self-esteem can occur. Anxiety and depression can manifest themselves as physical signs such as reduced appetite, comfort eating or irritable bowel syndrome. There is also evidence that those bullied are more likely to attempt suicide; researchers at Yale University showed this to be up to nine times higher than those who did not suffer bullying.
Physical impact on the body
When suffering at the hands of bullies, fear is felt, triggering the fight-flight mechanism, which was designed to help us escape dangerous situations. Stress hormone production increases, causing a rise in heart rate, constriction of the blood vessels, tense muscles and increased energy release. With repeated action, as would occur on a day to day basis when bullied, these can lead to raised blood pressure that can contribute to heart disease, muscle pain and weight loss, which are all symptoms frequently reported by victims.
While certain processes are heightened, other areas of the body deemed less essential, such as the immune, digestive and reproductive systems, receive less attention, explaining some of the other health consequences of bullying. However, infections being more likely to take hold aren’t the only impact of impaired immune function. Allergies are more frequent, autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis or lupus are more likely to follow a virus and the likelihood of tumours is increased, as cancerous cells go unchecked. Feeling nauseous, experiencing abdominal pain and changes in bowel habit are all the result of slower digestion, which can compound weight loss. Fertility is also reduced, making conception less likely.
The short and long term implication on all aspects of health demonstrates another reason why workplaces need to take bullying seriously.