depression study

Severe depression associated with sexual harrassment by colleagues


Employees who also experience sexual harassment in the workplace by colleagues and supervisors experience a much higher level of depression than individuals who experience harassment only by others such as customers and clients. This according to a new research study out of Denmark.

Sexual harassment research study:

Previous research has found an increased risk of long-term sickness absence for employees who have experienced sexual harassment by colleagues and supervisors but have not found a subsequent increased risk of depression associated with sexual harassment by clients or customers. Dr. Ida Elisabeth Huitfeldt Madsen, National Research Centre for the working environment in Denmark, and author of the research stated “We were surprised to see the differences between the effects of harassment by clients or customers compared to harassment by other employees and supervisors.

She also concluded that “Our findings suggest that sexual harassment from clients or customers has adverse consequences and should not be normalized or ignored. In this study we found that sexual harassment from clients or customers, which is more prevalent than harassment from fellow employees, is associated with an increased level of depressive symptoms. This is important as some workplaces, such as in person-related work like care work or social work, may have an attitude that dealing with sexual harassment by clients or customers is ‘part of the job’.”

This study utilized a measurement scale referred to as the Major Depression Inventory (MDI) which is a self-report questionnaire of mood that results in a possible diagnosis of depression along with a rating of the severity of symptoms. Scores on this inventory range from 20 for minor depression to 30 or more for a diagnosis of major depression. Researchers found that when employees not exposed to sexual harassment by other employees were later harassed by clients they scored a level of 2.05 points higher on the MDI. Employees who were also sexually harassed by colleagues and supervisors and then harassed by clients, scored 2.45 points higher on the same inventory.

A total of 7603 employees participated in this research study. Of the study participants 2.4% were exposed to sexual harassment by customers or clients while 1% were exposed to harassment by colleagues. More women were exposed to sexual harassment by colleagues and customers. Individuals working in care work were exposed to more harassment by clients or customers than those working in other occupational areas such as industrial or service work or education.


The total number of exposed individuals was relatively small in this research study especially as it relates to men, making this study less certain then may be expected of future research studies with larger study populations. It also seems to be much more reflective of women’s experiences. However, in spite of its limitations, this study is an indication of the necessity of studying sexual harassment in the working environment by colleagues and supervisors as well as the harassment experienced from customers or clients and their effect on symptoms of depression.

Information adapted by Paul Susic Ph.D. Licensed Psychologist from “Sexual harassment by colleagues may be associated with more severe depression” (September 25, 2017, ScienceDaily)

Story Source:

Materials provided by BioMed Central. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:

Maria K. Friborg, Jørgen V. Hansen, Per T. Aldrich, Anna P. Folker, Susie Kjær, Maj Britt D. Nielsen, Reiner Rugulies, Ida E. H. Madsen. Workplace sexual harassment and depressive symptoms: a cross-sectional multilevel analysis comparing harassment from clients or customers to harassment from other employees amongst 7603 Danish employees from 1041 organizations. BMC Public Health, 2017; 17 (1) DOI: 10.1186/s12889-017-4669-x

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