Workplace bullying as an antecedent of mental health problems: a five-year prospective and representative study

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Abstract

Purpose

The present study investigates the proposed long-term relationship between exposure to workplace bullying and subsequent mental health in the form of anxiety and depression with a time lag of 5 years, exploring potential gender differences in these relationships.

Methods

The study employs a prospective design with a 5-year time lag in a representative sample of the Norwegian workforce. A cohort of 1,613 employees reported on their exposure to workplace bullying and their symptoms of anxiety and depression at both measurement times.

Results

The results showed exposure to workplace bullying to be a significant predictor of mental health problems 5 years on, even after controlling for baseline mental health status, gender, age, job-change, job demands and job control, yet for men only. Baseline levels of mental health problems in terms of symptoms of anxiety and depression did not predict subsequent exposure to bullying at follow-up among women, but anxiety did in the case of men.

Conclusion

Workplace bullying poses a serious long-term threat to the health and well-being of workers, at least for men. The results of the study pinpoint the need for mental health treatment as well as for preventive measures in relation to workplace bullying, and pinpoint the need for a gender perspective in these studies.