Sunday Read: Commemorating Mental Health Awareness and Whistleblowing

National Whistleblower Center
6 min readMay 13, 2024


This article highlighting mental health awareness was sent as part of NWC’s “Sunday Read” series. For more information like this, please join our mailing list.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, a time dedicated to understanding and supporting mental health and wellness while aiming to break down the stigma surrounding it.

To observe the importance of the month, National Whistleblower Center (NWC) reached out to a whistleblower and leader in mental health advocacy, Jacqueline Garrick, for deeper insight into why coming forward can create mental health challenges and ways to overcome them.

A former captain in the U.S. Army, Garrick had established a career in public service and the Department of Defense (DoD). Garrick was appointed by the Obama Administration to the DoD to work in the office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness (P&R), where she organized the Defense Suicide Prevention Office in 2011.

Garrick is a whistleblower and brought her military and social work expertise to the whistleblower community to increase awareness of mental health issues in the whistleblower community. Garrick incorporated Whistleblowers of America (WoA) in 2017, after seeing a need for peer support. Garrick is also the author of Whistleblowers of America: Peer Support Mentor Training Manual: Peer Support in Overcoming the Toxic Tactics of Whistleblower Retaliation.

In this Sunday Read, we acknowledge the mental and emotional toll that can come with whistleblowing, effective coping mechanisms, and how society can help drive change and improvements in this still-evolving area.

An Interview with Jacqueline Garrick

Jackie, what are some of the biggest mental health risks impacting whistleblowers today?

There is a two-part risk to the mental health of whistleblowers.

First, they are often horrified by the wrongdoing that they see at work. They know that there is harm being done. It could be wrongful deaths in patient care, child abuse at school, human trafficking, safety violations, environmental contamination, or misappropriation of taxpayer dollars; someone somewhere is being harmed. The whistleblower is so aghast at what they observe, they make a disclosure thinking if they act, the wrong will be righted.

The second moral injury comes when the whistleblower is betrayed by the organization that they loyally served. Retaliation is toxic. In my book, The Psychosocial Impacts of Whistleblower Retaliation: Shattering Employee Resilience and the Workplace Promise, I outline the tactics used against the whistleblower. These include gaslighting, mobbing, marginalizing, shunning, devaluing, double-binding, career blocking, counter-accusing, and bullying.

Victims often then suffer from depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and suicidal ideation. When mental well-being is disrupted, it can lead to other quality of life challenges.

How important have recent changes impacted your work supporting mental health?

Being able to discuss the stigmas surrounding whistleblowing and mental health is significant. We must continue to work to change the culture enveloping these issues. People with mental health issues suffer in silence for too long. Often it takes a crisis before they reach out for help. There’s been a divorce, lost job, housing insecurity, substance abuse, or an arrest. Now add the stress of whistleblowing where there is extreme isolation, betrayal, identity disruption, career loss, and public humiliation.

There has been some progress in understanding the need for increased access to mental health and support, but it is still too inconsistent and there are not enough trained clinicians in this space. Better communication is needed in sharing a trauma-informed perspective that considers whistleblowers as trauma survivors and treats their experience with proper care and attention.

Clinicians need to be prepared to treat this type of adult emotional abuse but also to be able to support applications for disability, workers’ compensation, medical leave, accommodation, or judicial awards for pain and suffering caused by distress.

What are some of the best ways whistleblowers can maintain their mental health while their case or claim is in progress?

Some of the best practices surrounding mental health include eating right, getting enough sleep, exercising, containing substance use. But whistleblowers should also seek mental health professional care for coping with the added stress. They need to develop networks of support, such as the peer network we offer at Whistleblowers of America. Store the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline for moments of stress and anxiety. There are self-soothing or emotional regulation techniques such as meditation, prayer, or mindfulness practices that are helpful and easy to use.

But the whistleblower ultimately needs to own their own narrative and find their own sense of restorative justice. For the vast majority of whistleblowers, “winning” is never what it seems. Court cases drag on for years while funds and family patience can dissipate. There needs to be an endgame, a time when you are ready to realize that you have done the best you can do, be proud, and be done. Peace comes with self-forgiveness and letting go of the perpetrators’ hold over you. Give yourself permission to move on and regain a sense of balance.

How important is it to change the culture around whistleblowing when it comes to mental health?

Whistleblower mental health is an emerging field of study. Changing this culture is not only important to the employees caught in the mix; society as a whole must care about this issue. Anyone can be impacted by wrongdoing when they walk into a school, hospital, or bank. It can be anyone’s family.

With suicide as the fourth-leading cause of death among working-aged adults in America, the change in funding research, developing policies and curriculums is the next horizon. I have proposed that there be an Office of the Whistleblower Protection Advocate under the Department of Justice that should operate similar to the Office for Victims of Crime.

If we understand the trauma of crime victims and the distress that can come from judicial proceedings within this population, we should see the similarities to whistleblowers who suffer retaliation, discrimination, and harassment. Studies have documented that the long-term effects of emotional abuse are worse than for physical assault, and yet mental health parity in victims is still a yardstick away.

National Whistleblower Day is coming up on July 30th. How significant is a day like that to you, your clients, and your colleagues at Whistleblowers of America?

National Whistleblower Day is important to Whistleblowers of America as an opportunity to discuss these issues.

In 2023, we had the children of whistleblowers involved in a project where they made watercolor roses and a banner that we used in a march to the White House to promote a Rose Garden Ceremony during our Workplace Promise Institute between Labor Day and Patriot’s Day. We recognized Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), who came out to meet our families and gave him blue and red roses for each president he has written to on this topic and then we took his letter and read it at the gates of the White House.

We realized how important it was to have whistleblowers and their families come together in recognition and celebration. Opportunities to recognize the patriotic and heroic actions of whistleblowers will help change culture but it also restores meaning and hope for them and their families.

Resources for Whistleblowers and Those Experiencing Mental Health Struggles

NWC has reported on this issue and will continue its coverage of Mental Health Awareness in May. If you or someone you know is struggling with their mental health, contact NAMI or the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.

The decision to come forward is not one to be taken lightly, nor should selecting a whistleblower lawyer. NWC provides resources that can connect you with the right legal professional.

Support NWC

The NWC is a 501(c)(3) non-profit and our awareness-building work can only continue with the support of generous donors like you. Donating today will allow NWC to continue bringing high quality information to you about whistleblowing and whistleblowers around the world, and we need your support. Donors of $50 or more will receive a copy of Rules for Whistleblowers: A Handbook for Doing What’s Right, written by NWC Chairman Stephen M. Kohn, Esq.

This story was written by Justin Smulison, a professional writer, podcaster, and event host based in New York.



National Whistleblower Center

National Whistleblower Center is the leading nonprofit working with whistleblowers around the world to fight corruption and protect people and the environment.