Sexual Assault and Mental Health

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Sexual Harassment at Work

As each day's headlines seem to reveal another influential person using their workplace privileges to sexually harass their colleagues it would appear that this kind of insidious workplace bullying can have particularly severe impacts on mental health. 

A recent study in Denmark revealed "that employees who were sexually harassed by supervisors, colleagues or subordinates in the workplace may develop more severe symptoms of depression than employees who experience harassment by clients or customers".

Furthermore, the report this study is cited in suggests that the 2 to 1 ratio of women experiencing depression might well be explained by their higher incidents of sexual bullying and harassment. 

When the American Psychological Association held a summit on women and depression, one factor affecting women that might explain the gender difference of 2 to 1 in diagnosis of depression was sexual harassment. Carol Landau, clinical professor of psychiatry and human behavior and medicine at the Warren Alpert Medical School at Brown University

Another recent study revealed that more than 50% of women have been sexually harassed at work, however that figure may well turn out to be much higher following the outpouring of accusations in recent months and the wave of people sharing their stories under the #MeToo. 

These figures and their impact on employee mental health are serious concerns for employers to tackle especially as many don't report their experiences and the impacts can be far wider reaching than just depression, ranging from lost working days to suicide attempts.  

Sexual Abuse and Mental Health

2004 study by the British Journal of Psychiatry indicates that there is a higher incidence of mental health issues in those who have been a victim of sexual abuse as a child (12.4% v 3.6%).

According to a UCL study as many as 40% of women with severe and enduring mental health issues are victims of rape or attempted rape in adulthood. This compares with a figure of 7% in the wider female population. The figures for men were equally shocking, 12% of men with severe mental health conditions, had been a victim of rape or attempted rape in the previous year compared to 0.5% in the general population. This shows just how vulnerable people with mental health conditions can be and how this can re-traumatise victims. 

Whilst figures for the number of men victimised are generally much lower, they face considerable extra social constraints in seeking help and a recent BBC report suggested the percentage of male victims who report their assault is just 3.9%. 

Here is a useful list of organisations specifically supporting anyone who has been a victim of sexual abuse. 

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