Sunday Read: Mental Health & Whistleblowing.

National Whistleblower Center
5 min readMay 22, 2023
This article highlighting the importance of mental health in the whistleblower arena was sent as part of NWC’s “Sunday Read” series. For more information like this, please join our mailing list.

The decision to blow the whistle is not one taken lightly. Despite the financial incentive, coming forward to authorities about corporate or governmental wrongdoing can exact a drastic toll on a whistleblower’s mental health.

This internal struggle is a major step in the whistleblowing process. But the related mental stress can be heightened or evolve after blowing the whistle, particularly if the whistleblower is a victim of retaliation.

In this Sunday Read, National Whistleblower Center (NWC) recognizes Mental Health Awareness Month this May and explores how whistleblower retaliation impacts a whistleblower’s mental health. We also spotlight the invaluable leaders and resources available before, during, and after the brave decision to blow the whistle.

Fishing Industry Whistleblower Fights Mental and Physical Struggles

Jóhannes Stefánsson is best known for exposing the massive Fishrot scandal in Namibia’s fishing industry.

The crime revolved around the payment of bribes from an Icelandic fishing company, Samherji, to government officials in exchange for Namibian fishing rights. Stefánsson worked his way up through the ranks of Samherji, ultimately becoming managing director in charge of securing new fishing rights. Stefánsson slowly realized that he was involved with a multimillion-dollar bribery scheme to secure Namibian fishing rights. In 2016, Stefánsson went public with allegations of corruption and misconduct in the fishing industry, and this decision nearly cost him his life.

Stefánsson has said he is incapable of work due to the mental and physical effects of the possible poisoning. But if you ask Stefánsson if it was worth it, he will reply, “it definitely was worth it, as justice was served.” He refuses to be painted as a victim, saying, “I was part of it, I am not running away from my responsibilities. I was doing the work on behalf of the company.”

In his Whistleblower Network News (WNN) “Whistleblower of the Week” profile, Stefánsson notes that though his dad is proud of his decision to come forward, the act cost his marriage and health. He has no assets and has lost everything.

As reported by Whistleblower Network News, Stefánsson plans to testify in the October trial of 10 men charged in connection with the massive bribery and corruption case. He will travel to Namibia in October 2023 to testify in person despite concerns over his safety, and is currently seeking support. Contact NWC at if you would like to help Mr. Stefánsson.

Whistleblowers’ Leading Mental Health Advocate: Jacqueline Garrick

One of the most visible advocates for mental wellness in the whistleblower landscape is Jacqueline Garrick. A former captain in the U.S. Army, Garrick had established a career in public service and the Department of Defense (DoD). She 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.

A series of whistleblower and retaliation claims in the mid-2010s halted her career in government and nearly eradicated her disability retirement benefits. But her faith in the system coupled with persistence via proper use of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) ultimately helped her reach the light at the end of the tunnel. In 2020, with the additional FOIA information, a judge overturned a prior denial by the Office of Personnel Management and Garrick was awarded disability retirement going back to 2017. Hear more in her episode of WNN’s “Whistleblower of the Week” podcast.

Garrick and Whistleblowers of America Outreach

Garrick went above and beyond to help brought her military and social work expertise to the whistleblower community. She founded Whistleblowers of America (WoA) in 2017, after seeing a need for peer support.

WoA is a nonprofit organization “assisting whistleblowers who have suffered retaliation after having identified harm to individuals or the public.” The organization provides education, mentorship and training to help people understand whistleblower retaliation and hostile work environment prevention. WoA also engages the media in public advocacy campaigns on behalf of whistleblowers and watchdogs.

Garrick leads a monthly WoA roundtable series, which brings together subpopulations of whistleblowers in a virtual forum to share information and focus on their unique issues and identify ways to work together to address challenges. More information on the roundtable series is available here.

In addition to her widely praised contributions to the whistleblower community through the WoA, Garrick also leads its education center, the Workplace Promise Institute (WPI). The WPI offers a 10-hour curriculum educating employers on peer support skills, leadership development, and resilience to manage workplace conflict and abuse.

Additional Mental Health Resources

May is Mental Health Awareness Month in the United States and in many areas of the world. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reports that 1 in 5 U.S. adults–51.5 million people–experience mental illness each year, but less than half get treatment.

Employers can take action by develop or improve workplace policies that uplift workers, ensure they are valued and heard, and improve an organization’s overall culture of well-being by downloading NAMI’s Workplace Mental Health Toolkit.

More workplace resources are available for whistleblowers and the people in their professional and personal circles, such as:

If you or someone you know is struggling with their mental health, contact NAMI or the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.

Support NWC

NWC fights to bolster whistleblower programs and strives to support whistleblowers in every aspect of their whistleblowing experience. As a 501(c)(3) non-profit our awareness building work is made possible with the support of our generous donors. Please consider donating $50 today to help us continue to educate about the impact of whistleblower retaliation and the supports available to whistleblowers.

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.