award-winning educator, mental health advocate, social entrepreneur, inspirational speaker, author/writer, program executive, and radio host
The emotional and sometimes physical abuse at workplaces isn’t always disclosed due to judgmental comments and perceptions. Furthermore, the stigmas associated with being a target of workplace bullying can lead to individuals and groups being chastised, harassed, called names, or willing/unwillingly forced to leave organizations. These negative outcomes aren’t something that bullying targets usually want to admit or disclose --- as a result too many individuals suffer alone, in silence. Therefore, it’s beyond time that individuals, organizations, and companies take meaningful action to prevent unwarranted, unnecessary, and preventable workplace abuse.
I know these feelings well because I was the target of workplace bullying in several organizations. Most of these incidents weren’t related to me personally, but were the result of my refusal to be complicit to questionable or unethical behavior.
During my corporate career, I primarily worked for Fortune 500 companies that were good corporate citizens by being fiscally/socially responsible, employee focused, quality driven, and most importantly ethical. However, once I worked as an independent consultant and for smaller organizations, I was baffled by the constant willingness to engage in highly questionable or downright unethical behavior to maximize revenue and for personal gains.
For me, I didn’t do bad things, engage in unprofessional behavior, treat anyone inappropriately, engage in questionable behavior, or commit fraud/illegal activities; instead, I purposely chose to not be a party to activities that weren’t in alignment with my beliefs, morals, and values.
In school and at most of the companies I worked, I was instructed to do the right things and to report questionable or unethical behavior. However, no one told or taught me that refusing to be part of, questioning, or confronting unethical behaviors could or would be very difficult and personally (financially/mentally) costly.
For approximately three years, I’ve written about ethics, ethical violations, and workplace bullying. Prior to my experiences with individuals who engaged in unscrupulous practices, I didn’t realize or understand the impacts or the toxicity that can be created for individuals, organizations, companies, and societies based on complacency.
If the conversation is about school bullies, then there would be more sympathy for those impacted. Conversely, if the topic is workplace bullying (whether or not ethical behavior is a factor), then the judgmental commentary often received is to not say anything, mind your business, get over it, toughen-up, or develop thicker-skin. However, the challenge is that adults will too often become submissive to abusive work environments due to a need to take care of themselves, families, or others. These additional financial and responsibility considerations provide powerful motivation(s) to remain silent due to misgivings about the potential outcome for someone who speaks up or fights back.
These types of preventable dilemmas are driven by individuals who and organizations that sanction win-at-any-cost mentalities. As a result, individual behavior and organizational cultures can cause psychological and physical affects on those who are targeted. For these reasons, everyone must clearly understand that bullying doesn’t stop in schools. Moreover, if unchecked, it can continue into and become toxic parts of organizations.
In school and work environments, bullies – especially unethical ones – destroy organizations, teams, and individuals due to being complicit by unnecessary silence. Many times, bullies attack because they identify something in their targets and try to minimize/extinguish their light and value. Another reason for this behavior is that greed can prevent individuals from caring about those who might be negatively affected and effected by their actions. As a result, societies must take proactive action to ensure that unscrupulous behaviors aren’t tolerated or allowed to flourish.
In March 2014, I was moments from death-by-suicide because I was afraid, ashamed, and embarrassed to admit that I was depressed. I mistakenly believed that mental health challenges didn’t happen to those who are strong, men, or anyone who has a backbone, which is absolutely incorrect. Depression has nothing to do with somebody’s personal (physical/mental) strength. It has everything to do with a bona fide medical condition related to someone’s health.
The unnecessary stigmas associated with mental health have created a silent epidemic in which these types of illnesses are too often not discussed until there’s a medical emergency or death. As a result, countless individuals lose their battles with this disease due to attempting to reduce their pain by self-medicating, self-harming, or self-sacrificing. These self-inflicted pain management decisions are many times preventable and usually manageable crises.
Oftentimes, these mental health challenges can be resolved with compassion, understanding, love, and support. Nobody should hurt themselves or die because someone falsely believes that no one cares. If you feel this way, please know based on my journey that there’s always someone willing to help --- even if it’s outside of your current support system.
Prior to the fateful day I almost ended my life, I wasn’t thinking about, planning, or wanting to die. However, the thoughts were already inside me that morning at the time I opened my eyes. Some people might not understand this because there’s an incorrectly belief that suicides are always planned, but for me this wasn’t the case.
During the worse part of my depression, I didn’t engage in self-destructive behavior; although, I did allow my feelings and concerns about the perceptions of others to prevent me from taking action to get better. Furthermore, my pain was compounded because I knew that I didn’t do anything wrong (on several occasions) to cause my personal challenges, but unbelievably bad outcomes continued to happen. Perhaps between worrying about being judged and ego management, I forgot to take care of myself first.
The hardest part was to disclose that my mental, physical, and financial declines were due to multiple accounts of workplace bullying by morally bankrupt individuals. Many of these incidents were conducted by executives who had power over my work. These corporate officers attempted to persuade or outright direct me to engage in unethical activities that were against my morals, ethics, and values. On other occasions, it was due to executives who used their authority to create/maintain hostile, toxic, or discriminatory work environments.
As difficult as it might be to embrace pain (as an indicator that something is wrong and needs to be corrected), individuals should use these sometimes life-altering feelings to identify the source of it and also navigate toward things that bring them enjoyment. Everyone must understand and appreciate that their value isn’t associated with the things possessed or in others’ considerations about them. Instead, it’s about the positive things that are done and upstanding values demonstrated. Adding value doesn’t require money to make a difference or change lives; value is developed through time, patience, and a willingness to make a positive difference for yourself and others.
During periods that I devalued my personal worth, I deliberately changed by reframing my mental outlook to leverage my pain to make forward-progress. These adjustments were driven by my spiritual beliefs and desire to give-back. This helped me to understand that personal fulfillment derives from spreading your light and gifts to make life better for yourself and others. Sometimes pain becomes the facilitator of action, which can cause individuals to react positively or negatively to external stimuli. Nevertheless, it’s a personal choice to be bitter or get better; both require a conscience choice and subsequent action.
“Your reputation is more important than your paycheck, and your integrity is worth more than your career.”
--- Ryan Freitas
In the midst of challenging times, it can be very difficult to summon the strength to persevere, be resilient, and move forward. However, learn from my experiences that life is about moments. If you’re having a bad one now… know that your next positive one is only a short time away. This assessment comes from this man who has experienced significant pain, financial challenges, and mental anguish, which almost led to an untimely and unnecessary death. Notwithstanding these visceral moments, I leveraged my faith and beliefs to persevere with determination and purposeful actions to create a better tomorrow --- for myself and others.
My hard-learned lessons could have been severely minimized if it weren’t for the stifling stigmas associated with depression (specifically) and mental illness (generally). At the time I almost died, I didn’t believe that I had any worth, value, or that things would/could get better… but I was very wrong. If I died-by-suicide, I wouldn’t have had the countless opportunities to positively help, inspire, and most importantly save lives. By directing and focusing my pain toward positive activities and giving-back to at-risk communities, it caused me to grow in ways I never imagined to be possible --- while I also relearned to embrace the wonderful experiences of life during the good and challenging times.
If you’re feeling depressed or suicidal, please let someone know. Don’t let pride or an ego prevent you from getting assistance --- regardless of your pain’s source. Understand from my journey that there’s always someone who is willing to help; it’s up to you to request it… so please don’t give-up on yourself or your life.
Don’t be silent about your struggles, as silence can be deadly. If you’re affected by depression, please get help and know that you’re not alone. Also, remember that there’s always someone, somewhere who is ready and willing to help.
Anyone who needs assistance should contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org or 1-800-273-8255.
Additional information on Mr. Young’s journey to recover after his near-suicide is available in his books “Choosing To Take A Stand” and “Turning Darkness Into Light”.
Additional information on workplace bullying can be obtained in Mr. Young's solution-oriented books "Bullies… They’re In Your Office, Too: Could you be one?" or his mini-book “Management Spotlight: Workplace Bullying”.