Workplace Bullying Linked to Increased Use of Psychotropics

Pam Harrison

December 17, 2012

Workplace bullying increases psychotropic medication use among men and women who have been victims of bullying and in those who witness it, a new study shows.

Tea Lallukka, PhD, University of Helsinki, in Finland, and colleagues found that after adjusting for age and prior medication use, women were approximately 50% more likely to have a prescription for psychotropic medication if they had been bullied at work.

Men who had been bullied at work were more than twice as likely to have been prescribed a psychotropic medication compared with those who had not been bullied (hazard ratio [HR], 2.15).

Witnessing workplace bullying had a similar impact on psychotropic medication use among men and women.

"Our findings highlight the significance of workplace bullying to subsequent psychotropic medication reflecting medically confirmed mental problems," investigators write.

"Tackling workplace bullying likely helps prevent mental problems among employees."

The study was published online December 12 in BMJ Open.

A Common Phenomenon

Previous research by the same group of researchers showed that workplace bullying is associated with common mental health disorders, including sleep disorders. In addition, they note that bullying victims are at higher risk for subsequent depression, mental distress, and illness-related absenteeism.

"All these previous studies highlight the adverse consequences of bullying for employee health in general and mental health in particular, as well as productivity at workplaces," the authors note.

To determine whether workplace bullying was associated with subsequent psychotropic medication prescriptions among women and men, the researchers conducted a longitudinal study in 6287 employees of the city of Helsinki, Finland, who were aged 40 and 60 years. Participants were surveyed between 2000 and 2002.

Data on psychotropic medication were derived from the prescription register of the Social Insurance Institution, Finland.

Use of psychotropic medication 3 years prior to and 5 years after the time of the baseline survey was linked with the survey data.

Results at baseline showed that 5% of both women and men reported that they had been bullied.

"Additionally, 18% of women and 12% of men reported earlier bullying in the same or another workplace," the authors add.

Bullying Needs to Be Tackled

Approximately one half of both men and women had observed bullying at their workplace at some point in time.

Some 23% of women and 17% of men had made at least 1 purchase of prescribed psychotropic medication during the follow-up period.

After adjusting for age, both current and earlier bullying were associated with a 1.7-times greater likelihood of psychotropic medication use among women (HR, 1.72).

Similar adjustments showed that current bullying among men was associated with a 2.7-times greater likelihood of psychotropic medication use (HR, 2.75).

Earlier bullying among men was also associated with a 2.3-times greater likelihood of psychotropic medication use (HR, 2.3).

Adjustment for previous psychotropic medication use attenuated the association between workplace bullying and psychotropic medication use among women but especially among men.

Observing bullying at the workplace was also associated with use of psychotropic medication in both sexes.

Among women, observing bullying was associated with a 1.7-times greater likelihood of psychotropic medication use (HR, 1.78); among men, the risk for psychotropic medication use was higher (HR, 2.32).

"Our study showed that workplace bullying is associated with subsequent psychotropic medication based on objective register data," the authors write.

"[And] workplace bullying needs to be tackled proactively in an effective way to prevent its adverse consequences for mental health."

The study was supported by the Academy of Finland. Dr. Lallukka has disclosed no relevant financial relationships

BMJ Open. Published online December 12, 2012. Full article