A Danish study has been published, finding that sexual harassment in the workplace can lead to depression as well as absence from work.
The study surveyed 7,603 employees from 1,041 Danish organisations. The survey asked about symptoms of depression, as well as whether they had been subjected to sexual harassment from colleagues or clients in the last 12 months. The survey found that 4% of women said they had been harassed, compared to just 0.3% of men.
Those who said they had been harassed by customer or clients scored an average of 2.05 points higher on a depression score worth 50 points, than those who had reported no harassment. Those who reported harassment from colleagues scored 2.45 points higher.
Study doesn’t confirm whether sexual harassment in the workplace causes depression or not
The results support the consensus that sexual harassment has harmful effects on mental health, no matter where it comes from.
The study is not without its drawbacks, with limitations including:
- The study has no way of showing that any harassment preceded symptoms of depression
- We can’t be sure how meaningful the small score difference was, and we don’t know who would diagnose the employees with depression.
- The reports of harassment may not be accurate, with those who had been harassed not feeling comfortable reporting it, or completing the survey at all.
Because of these limitations, the study serves only as a way to show us that there is a link between sexual harassment and depression, it cannot definitively prove that sexual harassment causes depression.
The study comes from researchers working for the National Research Centre for the Working Environment, the University of Southern Denmark, and the University of Copenhagen.
The study looked at relationships between employees who have been sexually harassed by clients, or workplace colleagues, and depression. It followed previous research suggestion that sexual harassment has harmful effects on mental health, and can cause depression and anxiety.
Due to past research focussing on harassment which comes from colleagues or supervisors, the main focus of this study was on harassment which came from clients or customers.
The Work Environment and Health in Denmark cohort study invites a random sample of adults aged 18 to 64 in employment to take part in the survey, which they can complete online or return by post. The questionnaires are sent out every 2 years and they ask respondents about their health and work environments.
The study involves the 7,603 people who responded in 2012. This represents 1,041 organisations, and is half of the people who were invited to take part in the surveys.
The questionnaire assessed sexual harassment in the workplace by asking whether respondents had been exposed to sexual harassment in the workplace in the last 12 months. Those who replied saying yes were then asked who the perpetrator was.