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Sexual harassment at work can increase risk of eating disorders, drug use for women, study says

Workplace sexual harassment can be detrimental. In fact, those who experience it are more likely to suffer from depression, eating disorders and drug use, according to a new report.

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Researchers from the American Psychological Association recently conducted a study, published in Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, to further explore how enduring sexual harassment can cause psychological harm.

To do so, they surveyed 2,000 Britons. They found that women are more likely than men to report the effects of sexual assault, which could include anxiety, depression, eating disorders, drug and alcohol abuse, post-traumatic stress and a lower level of overall happiness.

Although men may be at a higher risk for mental health issues after experiencing sexual harassment, women are also more likely to report incidents of it. 

Furthermore, researchers found men in the military are 10 times more like to endure sexual harassment, compared with civilian men. However, 81 percent of military men who are harassed keep quiet. 

“Sexual harassment in the workplace is a significant occupational health psychology problem,” APA President Antonio E. Puente said in a statement. “Psychological research has offered understanding into the causes of workplace harassment, as well as some strategies for preventing or reducing it. However, there is limited research regarding the characteristics of harassers, which makes it difficult to predict who will do it and where and when it might happen.”

While the APA acknowledges there is more research to do, it is encouraging organizations to be proactive by establishing policies that prohibit sexual harassment, raising employee awareness and creating reporting procedures.

“Psychology can help, in the form of sexual harassment training,” Puente said, “but it only works if it is part of a comprehensive, committed effort to combat the problem.”

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