Workplace bullying and harassment undermined my mental health

A nurse's personal account of how abusive behaviour by senior staff led her to experience anxiety, depression and panic attacks, until she felt she had no choice but to leave her job

A nurse's personal account of how abusive behaviour by senior staff led her to experience anxiety, depression and panic attacks, until she felt she had no choice but to leave her job

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NHS trusts have policies in place to protect staff and patients from bullying and harassment. These are supposed to create a happy and fulfilling work environment, one that supports staff in their professional development.

They are also intended to ensure that staff take responsibility for their behaviour, and understand the impact their actions can have on the people around them.

After more than 20 years in nursing, I have found that these polices are not always adhered to by health professionals in positions of authority.

Over the past two years, the bullying and harassment I experienced at the hands of my manager led me down a dark path of anxiety and depression, and I had to quit a job I loved for the sake of my health.

Criticised in front of colleagues

The way my manager spoke to me – criticising me in front of colleagues as well as in private – left me feeling humiliated, ashamed and vulnerable. It eroded my self-esteem and made me feel devalued and worthless. I cried many times, which is not normal for me. I also doubted my capabilities, and felt my performance at work deteriorated.

As this victimisation took its toll, I spiralled into a deep depression. Despite feeling mentally drained, and against the advice of friends and family, I decided not to go to my GP.

I also decided against seeking support from occupational health, as I feared this would be reported back to my manager. I felt that if I sought the appropriate talking therapy it could affect my chances of gaining new employment.

Unable to speak up

Many times, I just wanted to stay in bed and not go to work. I would spend my days off in bed crying, praying for my work environment to get better, and trying to encourage myself to get up and forget about work.

My feelings of low self-esteem, worthlessness and being devalued were not helped by the actions of another senior colleague who would speak to me in a patronising manner, even calling me a ‘stupid woman’, and complain to my manager about me. As my confidence was already eroded, I felt unable to speak up for myself, and felt tongue-tied when I needed to discuss anything with this colleague. I would check my shifts against his and if I was assigned to work with him I would feel nervous and anxious beforehand.

His inappropriate behaviour, coupled with the actions of my manager, led to me experiencing panic attacks, something which had never happened to me before.

‘Colleagues told me not to take it personally, saying that’s just how the department is, but trying to ignore the insults proved detrimental to my health’

The manager’s unprofessional behaviour was not solely directed towards me – I witnessed her slamming phones down, swearing and speaking rudely to colleagues, who were too afraid to complain. Always quick to point out others’ faults, she couldn’t seem to recognise her own shortcomings.

I am surprised that none of my colleagues reported the manager for her unacceptable behaviour. Perhaps, like me, they felt too worn down and afraid of the repercussions. They also told me not to take it personally, saying ‘that’s just how the department is’. But trying to ignore the insults proved detrimental to my health.

I couldn’t see any solution to my dilemma, and felt there was no one I could go to for help. It felt like other senior staff members covered up, or simply accepted, the manager’s behaviour because it had become ‘the norm’ for the department. But by failing to act they made a bad situation worse.

As this behaviour was allowed to fester, it spread throughout the department and I believe it is now embedded at the heart of that service. This leaves people like me, who feel weak and vulnerable, with limited options – resign or morph into our attackers.

Seek support

I hold the Nursing and Midwifery Council code of conduct dear to my heart, and try to live accordingly, so chose to remove myself from an environment that nearly destroyed me, physically, spiritually and psychologically.

On reflection, I should have reported the manager sooner and stood up to my attackers rather than resign from a job I loved. But that is easier said than done.

I have decided to share this experience as I’m sure I’m not alone in experiencing bullying and harassment in the workplace by senior members of staff. I will never allow myself to be treated in this way again. And if this is happening to you, tell some one, and make sure you seek the help and support you need.

Don’t spend two years of your life in misery as I did and allow others’ behaviour to have such a detrimental impact on your health and your career.

The author of this article wishes to remain anonymous

Further information


How to deal with bullying in the workplace

How to cope with rude or hostile colleagues

Being bullied? Here's how to handle it


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