Physical and emotional effects of whistleblowing

J Psychosoc Nurs Ment Health Serv. 2002 Jan;40(1):14-27. doi: 10.3928/0279-3695-20020101-09.


This research examined the stress-induced health effects of whistleblowing and non-whistleblowing on nurses in Western Australia. A descriptive survey design was used to explore the physical and emotional problems experienced by nurses who did and did not blow the whistle on misconduct in the workplace. A questionnaire based on Lazarus and Folkman's Model of Stress and Coping was developed and posted anonymously to general and mental health nurses. Ninety-five nurses responded to the questionnaire, and 70 were identified as whistleblowers and 25 were identified as non-whistleblowers. Results indicated that 70% of whistleblowers and 64% of non-whistleblowers experienced stress-induced physical problems from being involved in a whistleblowing situation. The most common physical problems experienced by nurses were restless sleep, fatigue, headaches, insomnia, and increased smoking. In addition, 94% of whistleblowers and 92% of non-whistleblowers suffered stress-related emotional problems, the most frequent being anger, anxiety, and disillusionment. Whistleblowers and non-whistleblowers suffered a similar percentage of physical health problems, whereas non-whistleblowers suffered a higher percentage of emotional health problems, especially feelings of guilt, shame, and unworthiness. These findings suggest that whistleblowing situations are stressful and may cause physical and emotional health problems whether one blows the whistle or not.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Affective Symptoms / psychology*
  • Aged
  • Disclosure*
  • Ethics, Nursing
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Job Satisfaction
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nurse's Role / psychology*
  • Occupational Diseases / psychology*
  • Risk Factors
  • Somatoform Disorders / psychology*
  • Stress, Psychological / complications*
  • Western Australia