Understanding and Preventing the Psychosocial Impacts of Whistleblowing, Part 2

Whistleblowers often do not initially fully comprehend the disclosure process so are unaware of how to protect themselves. So, whistleblowers who may find themselves subject to retaliation and scorn are traumatized by the hostile work environment. Whistleblowers need law practices to be trauma-informed, and need clinicians who understand the “serious injury” stressors of retaliation.

But whistleblowers also need the tools to help themselves continue to live life free from harm before, during and after their experience. As I discussed in my previous blog post, there are important steps whistleblowers can take when blowing the whistle. But it is just as important that whistleblowers support themselves physically, mentally, and emotionally before, during and after they report fraud.  

1. Give yourself permission to move on. Set boundaries for yourself and your case. Spend time seriously looking for your next adventure. Many whistleblowers find interesting and satisfying careers or retirements. Prioritize enjoying your life with your family and friends who are important to you. Do not withdraw or alienate yourself from your bliss. Serial whistleblowing can be a symptom of the trauma response. Keep what is most important to you up front in your life.

2. Practice self-care. As discussed in Part 1, self-care should be an important part of your SMART strategy. Eat right, get exercise, and do not sacrifice sleep, especially since sleep disturbances are common with PTSD, depression, and anxiety. Stay on top of your health. Stress can cause physical ailments, like migraines, fibromyalgia, or acid reflux, which can add to feelings of distress. You need to stay healthy or none of this will matter.

3. Learn emotional self-regulation. Along with taking care of your physical health, there is also a need to calm the traumatized mind. There are resources (apps, websites, classes) for mindfulness, meditation, breath work, yoga, or tai chi. Staying focused and feeling relaxed takes a conscientious effort. Art, music, and dance can help with self-expression. Avoid overindulging in alcohol or other substances.

4. Journaling. It might remind you of your childhood days but keep a diary. It will help you organize your thoughts, feelings, and a timeline of events. Your story can become your evidence.

5. Involve your family. Although there are issues when cases are under seal, family should be part of your strategy. There are legal and financial issues to consider that may involve spouses who must work, family moves, and home security measures. Children are watching too and need age-appropriate conversations to feel secure. Family members may not understand everything you are going through, but do not sell them short and certainly do not keep secrets that can affect them.

6. Find a therapist. Retaliation is like any other major life upset that causes us to feel lost and alone. When a loved one dies, it is not unusual to join a grief group or see a social worker. Identity disruption is like a death. It has changed our world views, and we may need help finding hope and a renewed sense of mission and purpose.

Retaliation is a serious life disruption, but whistleblowers can create their own sense of restorative justice. In other words, whistleblowers are winners even when cases are not. Resilience must be built, sustained, and maintained on the road to feeling vindicated and restored, but the whistleblower must be in charge of that journey. Whistleblowing may not have been the original plan in life, but when you take charge of your story, build support around you, and pay attention to your health, there is reason to be proud, satisfied, and happy.  

Jacqueline Garrick, LCSW-C is the Founder of Whistleblowers of America