The new data comes from Denmark, one of the Nordic countries with a high reputation for gender equality. In the workplace, however, it seems that things aren't as equal as they might appear. The new study, published in BMC Public Health, looked at 7603 employees from 1041 Danish companies, and endeavored to find out how many had been sexually harassed at work, who had harassed them, and how that had affected their mental health, specifically their tendency to develop clinical depression.
2.4 percent of the employees in the study (169 women and 11 men) reported being harassed by clients or customers, while 1 percent (49 women and 31 men) were harassed by colleagues. It's not certain why such a low number was reported in this voluntary survey, as Denmark has one of the highest rates of sexual harassment in Europe —people may simply not have been willing to disclose what was happening to them. When the scientists looked at how those numbers correlated with risk of depression, they found that harassment of any kind is bad news, but that harassment from your workplace colleagues, subordinate, or boss is linked with worse outcomes than harassment from clients.
Employees who'd been harassed by clients or customers scored on average 2.05 points higher on the Major Depression Inventory scale (which is self-reporting and used for depression diagnoses) than employees who'd never been harassed. But those employees who'd experienced workplace harassment from bosses or colleagues scored 2.45 points higher than them: a total of 4.45 points more than employees with no harassment at all. The Major Depression Inventory counts any score over 30 as major depression, so this difference matters a lot.
Put in simpler terms, there seems to be a link, according to this data, between serious depression and workplace harassment from your co-workers or other people at your job — more of a link than exists with harassment from a client or customer. The researchers behind the data say this matters because often, sexual harassment in the workplace is treated as identical, no matter who's perpetrating it, when it's clear that different kinds have different implications.
This study has many limitations, as a critique from the NHS points out. For one, it's all based on self-reported incidents, both of harassment and of depressive symptoms; for another, it only does one questionnaire about depressive symptoms, so it can't tell when the depressive symptoms came about with respect to the harassment; and the Major Depression Inventory Scale isn't actually a diagnosis, just a tool. It simply points to a link between colleague harassment and depression, not a causal relationship, which is likely mediated by a lot of other factors, like previous psychological issues, precise circumstances, power dynamics, and other elements. It's not the first time that sexual harassment has been linked to mental health difficulties, though; it's been on the radar since at least 1994, when a phone survey of 3,006 US women revealed a link between experiencing sexual harassment and higher incidences of depression and PTSD. A 1997 study of high school students suggested a link between sexual harassment and higher risk of suicide, and the Everyday Sexism Project in 2016 commented on the link between sexual harassment and psychological "distress" in women.