In the midst of the ‘Me Too’ movement, a new study finds that people sexually harassed at work may be at increased risk for attempted suicide and suicide.
The findings out of Sweden show that workplace sexual harassment may “represent an important risk factor for suicidal behavior,” said study author Linda Magnusson Hanson, an associate professor in the psychology department at Stockholm University, and colleagues.
The research included more than 85,000 male and female workers in Sweden who completed a questionnaire between 1995 and 2013. It asked if they’d been sexually harassed at work in the past 12 months by either fellow workers, superiors or by what they termed “others,” such as clients, passengers, students or patients.
Overall, nearly 5% of the workers reported workplace sexual harassment: about 2% of men and 7.5% of women. Those who said they were sexually harassed were more likely to be younger, single, divorced, in low-paid but high-strain jobs, and born outside of Europe.
The workers were then followed for an average of up to 13 years. During that time, 125 died by suicide and 816 made a suicide attempt.
While the study was only observational and did not prove a cause-and-effect link, workplace sexual harassment was associated with a nearly threefold increased risk of suicide and almost doubled increased risk of attempted suicide, the researchers found.
The increased risk remained significant after adjustments for health and work characteristics, and there were no significant differences between the sexes. Sexual harassment from others was more strongly associated with increased risk of suicide than sexual harassment from superiors or fellow workers, according to the study.
The results were published Sept. 2 in the BMJ.
“This suggests that workplace interventions focusing on the social work environment and behaviors could contribute to a decreased burden of suicide,” Hanson and her team said in a journal news release.
“We believe no workplace can be considered safe unless it is free of harassment, and this issue cannot be sidelined any longer,” they added.
They noted that victims of sexual harassment should receive mental health screening and treatment.
This could “mitigate risks for subsequent mental health concerns and suicidality,” the researchers said.
The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health has more on suicide prevention.
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