Bullying almost always has an impact on the victim’s mental health.

Bullying is a form of aggression, a deliberate attempt to harm, undermine or disable another person. But often this is not blatantly inappropriate behaviour, such as being shouted at in a meeting, or verbally abused in front of others.

Most senior staff in higher education are discerning enough to understand what constitutes unacceptable behaviour. And a bully is typically not unaware of what they do.

Bullying is often subtle, covert, insidious behaviour, difficult to identify as such, and to evidence robustly. It can involve misleading or gas-lighting, renaming, rephrasing and embellishing behaviours to explain them away as acceptable.

As a victim, you might feel angry, confused, sad and demoralised – but not necessarily bullied.

Realising that you are being bullied often comes with shock, disbelief, outrage and hurt, and also with a sense of isolation, powerlessness, fear and loss of bearings. The longer the bullying goes on, the more severe the impact, and the greater the risk that the victim changes their own behaviour as a result of the bullying, and appears to others “changed”, “odd”, paranoid or in the throes of “mental health issues”.

When no support is available, when the bullying persists in spite of attempts to address it, or worsens every time it is addressed, sometimes in broad daylight and with the silent acquiescence of HR and senior management, the consequences can be devastating and lead to lasting trauma.

The 2017 publication by the Guardian The psychology of a workplace bully is helpful to understand what you may be dealing with.

Looking after your mental health becomes a priority. You need to survive the bullying as well as any informal and formal processes relating to it — which can be just as challenging for your wellbeing as the bullying itself.

We recommend that you:

1) Share your concerns: speak to a trusted friend or work colleague, find a support group or network.

2) Resist threats and isolation: Talking about bullying in the workplace can be daunting. You may be warned that making allegations (of bullying) about others can have consequences, and reminded of the need to respect confidentiality.

Finding ways of communicating your concerns factually and respectfully becomes essential to protect yourself and your right to speak up about behaviour you consider inappropriate and which impacts on your wellbeing.

Be prepared for victim-blaming. You may be painted as a difficult or demanding person, perhaps unstable and with mental health issues. You may be blamed for disrupting the smooth concensus of the department – for addressing issues which are uncomfortable when they should be of interest to all.

3) Consider counselling: Professional counselling will provide ways of alleviating stress and distress, and of creating emotional space to deal with an unpleasant situation and any feelings associated with it, without it taking over your life.

Meditation can also be effective to provide distance between you and the unpleasant situation, and some temporary respite.

While neither counselling nor meditation will resolve the bullying, they will provide you with greater resilience and coping mechanisms, and improve your wellbeing while a resolution is sought.

4) Establish facts and keep perspective: Keep a record of actions and events which make you feel uncomfortable, or seem unusual or unfair treatment and unwarranted behaviour. Timelines of events with dates and details are invaluable both for your own perspective of the situation you are experiencing, and for any subsequent investigation of your concerns.

Factual records are a powerful weapon against accusations of paranoia or allegations that your perception of being bullied i.e. your interpretation of someone else’s behaviour may be due to mental health issues.