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Workplace bullying takes toll on witnesses too

People who experience or witness workplace bullying are more likely to have prescriptions for antidepressants, sleeping pills and tranquilizers, a new study finds.

Previous research has shown that workplace bullying affects mental health, but it hasn't been clear whether this leads to a greater need for drug treatment or if the impact is similar for workers who are victims of bullying and those who witness it, the authors of the new study noted.

To shed more light on the issue, the researchers asked more than 6,600 public-service employees in Helsinki, Finland, aged 40 to 60, about workplace bullying they either saw or experienced between 2000 and 2002.

Five percent of the employees said they were currently being bullied and 18 percent of women and 12 percent of men said they had been bullied before, either in their current job or in a previous job with another employer.

About half of the employees said they had witnessed bullying in the workplace at least occasionally, and about 10 percent said they had witnessed it often, according to the study, which was published Dec. 12 in the journal BMJ Open.

The researchers also found that women who experienced bullying at work were 50 percent more likely to have a prescription for antidepressants, sleeping pills or tranquilizers, while the likelihood was twice as high for men who experienced bullying at work.

Women and men who witnessed bullying at work were 53 percent and nearly twice as likely, respectively, to be prescribed such drugs, the study authors noted in a journal news release.

"Workplace bullying needs to be tackled proactively in an effective way to prevent its adverse consequences for mental health," study author Tea Lallukka, formerly of the department of public health at the University of Helsinki, and currently of the department of sociology at the University of Surrey in the United Kingdom, and colleagues concluded in their report.

Although the study found an association between workplace bullying and employees being prescribed certain types of drugs, it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.

Source: Healthday News/BMJ Open, news release, December 12, 2012 

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