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Workplace Violence Boosts Depression

Employees subjected to real or threatened violence at work run a major risk of becoming clinically depressed, according to research published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

A study by UK researchers of 14,000 patients hospitalized for treatment of depression or stress-related disorders found that the risk of depression was directly proportional to the amount of workplace violence they experienced.

After surveying and comparing the occupations of 14,000 hospital patients (ages 18-65), who were treated for depression or stress-related disorders between 1995 and 1998 with 38,000 people without mental health problems, researchers found that the prevalence of real and threatened violence was highest among those working in health, education and social work sectors, with male employees facing greater risk of violence than women.

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

Key findings detailed in the research include:

  • Exposure to violence boosted 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 more likely in men.
  • Threatening behavior boosted the likelihood of depression by 48 percent in women and stress related disorders by almost 60 percent in men.

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

The risk of psychiatric problems among employees exposed to violence is well recognized and reflected in guidance from the European Commission and the International Labor Organization, they added.

"Despite these efforts, there seems to be no decrease in work-related violence, threats and harassment," they concluded.

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