January 15, 2007

Study: Violence at work raises risk of clinical depression

Source: NYSUT Health and Safety Newsletter

Employees who are victims of violence at work are at increased risk of clinical depression, according to a study.

Findings are based on the occupations of more than 14,000 Danish hospital patients who were being treated for depression or stress-related disorders between 1995 and 1998. The patients were compared with 38,000 people without mental health problems, but matched for age and sex. All were asked if they had been subjected to workplace violence in the previous 12 months.

The frequency of real and threatened violence was highest among workers in health, education and social work sectors. Males were at greater risk of violence than women.

While most violence came from clients, patients and students, around 5 percent of study participants with mental health problems said they were subjected to violent behavior from their co-workers.

Almost half said they had been subjected to more than one incident of violence or threatening behavior in the preceding 12 months, and one in five said they had been subjected to both.

Exposure to violence increases the risk of depression by 45 percent in women and 48 percent in men, compared with those in workplaces without any risk of violence. Stress-related disorders were around one-third more likely in women and 55 percent in men.

Threatening behavior boosted the chance of depression by 48 percent in women and stress-related disorders by almost 60 percent in men.

The extent of risk was directly relative to the amount of violence experienced at work.

The authors say other research suggests that being subjected to violence may over-stimulate the autonomic nervous system that then translates into an emotional disorder, even among those with stable personality traits.

The findings were published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health and can be accessed at www.press.psprings.co.uk/jech/september/771_ch42986.pdf.