Written by Laurie Tarkan
Studies have shown that workplace bullying can chip away at a victim’s mental health, leading to depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress syndrome.
Now, a large-scale study has provided more evidence of the harmful effects of workplace bullying. The study found that victims of workplace bullies are more likely to take antidepressants, sleeping pills, sedatives and other psychotropic medications.
The study, published in BMJ Open, also found that bystanders — those who simply witness workplace bullying and don't do anything about it — are also more likely to take these medicines.
Dr. Tea Lallukka and her colleagues at the University of Helsinki in Finland wanted to provide an objective measure of the effects of workplace bullying on the mental health of victims and their co-workers. The prescription rates would reflect medically confirmed mental problems. Earlier studies have mainly used self-reports of one’s mental health or have taken a one-time “snapshot” of workers’ mental health, rather than looking at their health over the long term.
Though workplace bullying can be defined differently, the authors defined it this way: “Workplace bullying is about situations at work, where the victims are in an unequal position with respect to their bully and are unable to defend themselves against the negative actions.”
The study looked at a large sample of public service employees working in Helsinki. Researchers tracked national registry data on prescriptions for psychotropic drugs — antidepressants, sedatives, tranquillizers and sleeping pills — for three years before the workplace bullying survey and for five years afterwards.
Five percent of employees said they were currently being bullied (a study from the Workplace Bullying Institute found that 35 percent of U.S. workers are bullied). Another 18 percent of women and around 12 percent of men said they had been bullied in the past, either in the same job or in a previous job.