Conference Review: Workplace Bullying, Stress and Suicide:

International Conference 2003.

Trinity College, Dublin. 18th October, 2003.

This one-day conference introduced new research in the area of workplace bullying and suicide, and featured internationally renowned experts in the field of aggression studies in business and the workplace.  The conference was run by the Anti-Bullying Centre (ABC) Research and Resource Unit, Trinity College Dublin; (www.abc.tcd.ie), in association with the National Suicide Review Group.

The conscious change to the use of the word ‘target’ instead of the more familiar ‘victim’ struck me as interesting.   The concept of a person as a ‘target’ was beautifully illustrated in a comment by a psychiatrist from the audience when he referred to the people he treated for bullying as high achievers, often agents of change in organisations which he described as closed systems where it is very hard to bring about change.

The research results clearly linked a range of physical symptoms from headaches to muscular tension through to depression to workplace bullying.  76% of targets were diagnosed with PTSD which was shown to have lessened only marginally over time – to 65% after 5 years.  The effect of bullying on witnesses paralleled that of targets albeit to a lesser extent.

Dr. John Connolly of the Irish Association of Suicidology (www.ias.ie) stressed that suicide prevention is everybody’s business and that no one group has the answer.  While the research to date is not at the stage of proving the link between bullying and suicide, he suggested it is not unreasonable to make this link based on the findings to date.  He described suicide as ‘a permanent solution to a temporary problem’.  John Eardly, a Dublin based barrister and author of the recently published book ‘Bullying and Stress in the Workplace’ gave a humorous and informative account of the legal issues in the Irish context.

While the research was interesting, even if a bit heavy going at times, I wanted to hear some strategies, some ideas presented in dealing with the facts and figures that were presented.  There were none.  While the value of therapy was referred to, there was an air of hopelessness at the end of a long day.

I was struck by this sense of hopelessness.  I thought of the wealth of knowledge and years of experience in dealing with abuse which exists within IAHIP and other professional bodies.  I wondered if many have tried to bridge this gap.  If so how did they get on?  What challenges did they face?  What were the results?  What support did they need?

Maybe if I watch ‘The Space’ some answers will emerge…?

Mary Stefanazzi