Jun 14, 2018

‘Escaping the Rabbit Hole’: How bullying in the aged care workforce contributed to my depression

In her book titled ‘Escaping the Rabbit Hole’, Tracey Maxfield writes candidly about her experiences with depression. Here, she writes for HelloCare about her experiences working in the aged care sector, where she was subjected to bullying that triggered such crippling depression she has not been able to work since.

After working for seven years in community nursing and then a short stint in a managerial role, I was offered a position as team leader. The job was very busy and extremely fast paced and stressful, but I loved it as I was working with patients and their families: educating, supporting, counselling and advocating for them. Unfortunately, a superior, let’s call ‘X’ preferred not to get involved in the complex work and ultimately, within a short period of time, I was assuming additional roles and responsibilities.

I approached several people (six in all) at a higher level to assist me, but nothing was done, and with each passing year, my daily work continued to increase. In 2014, there were couple of incidents where ‘X’ made decisions that I felt were ethically and morally wrong and would put vulnerable people living with dementia at great risk of harm. I could not in good conscious stand by and let it happen and so I spoke up and challenged the decision. Fortunately, the decision was reversed however, ‘X’ was very angry, and I was severely reprimanded and threatened.

From that point on, things got worse, at every opportunity, ‘X’ would undermine me, harass me, intimidate and belittle me, and on occasions would slip in a threat and a reminder of who was in charge. I was so stressed I could not sleep, I developed pneumonia twice, I started to lose weight, and my work quota continued to increase. I realised I was experiencing signs of burn out, however, I loved my job, and I wanted to continue helping and supporting the patients and the healthcare team.

In June, there was a meeting in which my ‘X’ made several false allegations. The next day, without warning, I was moved off-site to do project work. I was placed in an office with no windows and isolated from other employees. I was cut off from email contact and my team were told not to contact me. I met with a high-level superior who was aware of what had transpired for the past 4 years and supported me. Unfortunately, ‘X’ discovered we had been meeting, demanded a meeting with me and the union and basically subjected me to 90 minutes of verbal abuse, false allegations, lies, intimidation, threats, you name it. After the meeting, I met with my doctor, I was absolutely devastated, I could not stop crying, I felt like my life was over, and in a nutshell, I completely fell apart and hurtled down the rabbit hole. I have not worked since.

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  1. But what happened to the bullies. I hope they are still not in a leadership role as people who do this should definitely not be allowed to remain in a care facility ever

    1. Unfortunately, the bully continued to work and claimed two more victims (nurses). Two months ago, the bully was demoted to another role where there is no direct contact with nurses or other healthcare professionals.

  2. Bad Managers use fear (of loss of employment) coupled with force (IE., memos directing staff to behave in certain ways.). The problem with this approach is that it does not work. If employers want to provide safe work for Nurses and Doctors they need to make sure that the workload is manageable. The workload in Aged Care is not manageable due to inadequate staffing. Observing older people being treated in ways that can only be described as inhumane is depressing. Safe care for older patients has to start with safe work for Nurses and Doctors. Happy staff generally have happy patients.

  3. After reading about Tracey’s book I purchased it immediately and I’m looking forward to reading it tonight

  4. It’s horrific, my meant health spiralled. Thoughts of suicide, increased sick leave. Goes on and on and on

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