Bullying linked to ninefold increase of risk of developing depression

February 3, 2015 - 06:25

If you feel that you are being bullied at work you have every good reason to be alarmed.

People who feel their colleagues are bullying them face a ninefold risk of developing a depression, shows new study. (Photo: Shutterstock)

If you feel you are being bullied at work you have a nine times greater risk of developing depression. 

That's the conclusion of a new study, recently published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

"We have to take this seriously," says lead author Maria Gullander, Ph.D. in public health and epidemiology from Copenhagen University.

Psychiatry professor Poul Videbech from Aarhus University agrees:

"This is an interesting and important result and I recognise it from clinical practice. We know that bullying affects our self-confidence and self-esteem," says Videbech. “It's very possible that bullying pushes people towards depression, or makes it worse than it otherwise would have been.”

Bullied employees were far more like to have depression

The research project is the largest and most thorough of its kind. The project comprises 5,485 wage earners who responded to questionnaires on three occasions at 2½-year intervals.

On all three occasions they were asked if they had been bullied and were asked questions that would reveal if they suffered from depression.

In addition to this, the researchers held further diagnostic interviews with 1,481 of the participants to ascertain whether or not they had a depression.

The interviews took the form of so-called SCAN interviews, a method developed by the World Health Organisation to examine psychiatric disorders.

Approximately half of the 1,481 participants had been bullied and showed symptoms of depression, anxiety or both.

The result shows that people who have not previously experienced depression face nine times the risk of becoming depressed if they are bullied.

Tom Hansen, psychologist and chief consultant at the Danish Working Environment Authority, is not surprised by the result.

"We have known for a long time that people who get bullied face the risk of becoming ill -- but until now we haven’t had such concrete evidence of this. This confirms the need for supervision and the importance of having a hotline for victims of bullying," he says.

The correlation is “too” obvious

One would think that -- considering the size and thoroughness of this study -- no one would be in doubt that bullying can lead to depression.

But according to Gullander, things aren't that simple.

"The challenge we now face is that the result is so strong that it will become untrustworthy," she says.

There's no doubt that if you feel you are being bullied at work, the risk of you becoming depressed is markedly greater. The question is whether it is bullying that leads to depression.

“The result could suggest that you face a greater risk of being bullied if you have the symptoms of depression. The problem is that we still can't say anything definite about whether it’s your depressive symptoms that make you more vulnerable to negative relationships," says Gullander.

According to Videbech, the clear result is a signal that bullying must never be accepted.

"It can’t be denied that people might’ve been vulnerable or already in a poor mental state when they were bullied. But then we should ask ourselves whether we want a job market where you face the risk of being bullied simply because you are mentally vulnerable," he says.

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Read the original story in Danish on Videnskab.dk

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Translated by
Hugh Matthews

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