June 12, 2023; Unhurry Expert Research Team
In This Article
Employees who have experienced sexual harassment at work are more likely to commit suicide or attempt suicide. According to the study that was just published in The BMJ workplace interventions emphasizing the social aspects of the workplace could aid in lowering suicide rates.
The “Me Too” movement has brought a lot of attention to work-related sexual harassment in recent years, and the impact it can have on businesses and society, but most importantly on individuals.
What is the #MeToo movement?
#MeToo is a social movement and awareness campaign against sexual abuse, sexual harassment, and rape culture, in which people publicize their experiences of sexual abuse or sexual harassment.
While previous research has found that sexual harassment in the workplace is linked to physical health symptoms, sickness absence, and poorer mental health, such as psychological distress, depression, and anxiety, little research has been carried out on its impact on suicidal behaviour.
So, a team of researchers set out to determine how exposure to workplace sexual harassment is associated with suicidal behaviour in a large population of Swedish workers.
How is workplace sexual harassment associated with suicidal behaviour?
The study included 85,205 men and women of working age in paid work who completed a questionnaire between 1995 and 2013 which included questions about exposure to work-related sexual harassment.
Employees were questioned about whether they had experienced sexual harassment at work in the previous 12 months, whether it came from bosses, coworkers, or “other people” such as patients, clients, travellers, and students.
What is sexual harassment?
Sexual harassment was defined as “undesirable advances or offensive references to what is generally associated with sexual relations.”
Any suicides or suicide attempts by these workers over an average follow-up period of 13 years were identified from administrative registers.
Overall, 4.8% of the workers reported workplace sexual harassment during the previous 12 months: 1.9% of all men and 7.5% of all women. Those exposed were more likely to be younger, single, divorced, and in low-paid but high-strain jobs (high demands but low control), and born outside of Europe.
Workplace sexual harassment was linked to a 2.82 times higher risk of suicide
workplace sexual harassment was linked to a 2.82 times higher risk of suicide A total of 125 people died from suicide and 816 made a suicide attempt during the follow-up period, which translates to a rate of 0.1 suicides per 1000 person-years and a rate 0.8 attempted suicides per 1000 person-years.
After correcting for sociodemographic characteristics, it was discovered that being exposed to workplace sexual harassment was linked to a 2.82 times higher risk of suicide and a 1.59 times higher chance of suicide attempt. There were no significant differences in rates between the sexes, and the elevated risk estimates persisted after accounting for work and health factors.
Sexual harassment from others was found to be more strongly associated with suicide than sexual harassment from superiors or fellow workers.
Workplace interventions decrease the burden of suicide
Since this is an observational study, it is impossible to determine the cause. The authors note that underreporting of sexual harassment may have occurred as a result of respondents’ differing perceptions of what constitutes an incidence or because some respondents included instances they had watched.
Nevertheless, they say workplace sexual harassment may “represent an important risk factor for suicidal behaviour. This suggests that workplace interventions focusing on the social work environment and behaviours could contribute to a decreased burden of suicide.”
They emphasise that more research is necessary to identify the causes, risk factors, and mechanisms underlying the link between workplace sexual harassment and suicide behaviour.
Workplace sexual harassment an occupational hazard
This study underscores the need to consider workplace sexual harassment as both an occupational hazard and a significant public health problem, say US researchers in a linked editorial.
Yet given that the most common approaches to prevention (sexual harassment training) and mitigation (reporting or grievance procedures) have been shown to do more harm than good, new ways to prevent and address workplace sexual harassment are urgently needed, they write.
“We believe no workplace can be considered safe unless it is free of harassment, and this issue cannot be sidelined any longer,” they say.
“Promising, evidence-based solutions exist and should be widely implemented and evaluated. Victims of sexual harassment should receive mental health screening and treatment to mitigate risks for subsequent mental health concerns and suicidality,” they conclude.
Materials provided by BMJ. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
Linda L Magnusson Hanson, Anna Nyberg, Ellenor Mittendorfer-Rutz, Fredrik Bondestam, Ida E H Madsen. Work related sexual harassment and risk of suicide and suicide attempts: prospective cohort study. BMJ, 2020; m2984 DOI: 10.1136/bmj.m2984
Urmimala Sarkar, Shirin Hemmat, Eleni Linos. Sexual harassment and suicide. BMJ, 2020; m3330 DOI: 10.1136/bmj.m3330
BMJ. “Exposure to workplace sexual harassment linked to an increased risk of suicidal behavior: Measures targeting inappropriate behaviours in the social work environment could help reduce suicide, say researchers.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 2 September 2020. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/09/200902185524.htm>.
Help is here:
Toll-Free Mental Health Rehabilitation Helpline Kiran (1800-599-0019)
Name of the Organisation: Vandrevala Foundation
Vandrevala Foundation is a non-profit that partners with organizations to help communities thrive by providing education and healthcare. Vandrevala Foundation launched a mental health helpline in India in 2009 to offer free psychological counselling and crisis mediation to anyone who is experiencing distress due to depression, trauma, mood disorders, chronic illness, and relationship conflict.
Contact: Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Telephone: +91 9999 666 555
Name of the Organisation: Aasra
AASRA volunteers conduct workshops on different levels with high-risk target groups eg school, college students, highly-stressed employees of call centres, financial institutions, multinationals etc. AASRA volunteers have Outreach programs to reach out to the multitudes who may choose to end their lives because of chronic suffering or terminal illness.
Contact: email: email@example.com