Workplace bullying interlinked with higher risk of heart problems

Difficult work conditions, including job strain and excessive hours, have long been linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, but research to date hasn’t offered a clear picture of what role might be played by exposure to bullying and violence, state researchers in the European Heart Journal

Workplace bullying interlinked with higher risk of heart problems

People who are bullied or exposed to violence on the job may be more likely to develop cardiovascular disease than individuals who don’t deal with these challenges at work, a European study suggests.

Researchers examined survey data from more than 79,000 working men and women between 19 and 65 years old who didn’t have a history of heart disease. Overall, about 9 per cent of them reported being bullied and 13 per cent said they had been exposed to violence on the job in the last year.

After an average follow-up period of more than 12 years, 3,229 people, or about 4 per cent of the workers in the study, were diagnosed with heart disease or hospitalized for related events like a heart attack or stroke.

Workers who were bullied on the job were 59 per cent more likely to be diagnosed with heart disease or hospitalized for heart attacks or strokes than those who were not bullied, the study found.

And workers who were exposed to violence had 25 per cent higher likelihood of developing heart disease or being hospitalised for related events.

“If we can eliminate workplace bullying and workplace violence, the impact on cardiovascular disease prevention would be similar to if we prevent diabetes and risky alcohol drinking,” said lead study author Tianwei Xu of the University of Copenhagen in Denmark.

Stressors like bullying and violence might contribute to mood disorders like anxiety or depression or fuel unhealthy behaviours like smoking or eating and drinking too much, the study authors note.

Severe stress may also contribute to high blood pressure, which in turn increases the risk of heart disease.

Bullying, or psychologically aggressive behaviour, affected from 8 per cent to 13 per cent of workers across three different surveys examined in the study.

Most bullies were colleagues, supervisors or subordinates, rather than clients or other individuals outside the workplace.

About 7 per cent to 17 per cent of workers were exposed to violence, which included both threatened and actual physical harms. Most perpetrators of physical violence were clients or people served by workers, not supervisors or colleagues.

Certain professions appeared to have an outsize risk of physical violence: more than 47 per cent of social workers experienced this, as did more than 29 per cent of personal and protective service workers, more than 25 per cent of healthcare workers, and more than 16 per cent of teachers.

For the analysis, researchers looked at workers in Denmark and Sweden who were participants in three studies that began between 1995 and 2011. Researchers examined national health registry data for evidence of heart disease.

Pre-existing psychological conditions, childhood experiences and coping skills may all influence whether or how much workplace exposure to bullying or violence might contribute to the risk for heart disease, said the author of an accompanying editorial, Christoph Herrmann-Lingen of the University of Gottingen Medical Center in Germany.

But that doesn’t mean workers should ignore these problems, Herrmann-Lingen said.

“Workers who feel bullied or those who experience threat of violence or actual violence should take these events seriously and seek support for solving the underlying conflicts and obtaining support in dealing with the resulting emotional distress,” he advised.

In regards with the context of workplace bullying in India, while speaking to My Medical Mantra, Dr Heena Merchant, Associate professor, Department of Psychiatry, Sion Hospital, said, “It does impact the individual and it also depends on how well their coping mechanisms are. It is now just limited to corporate offices, it happens to all of us who work in different fields. It can have severe effects on a person and also affect their heart. As the stress levels can be detrimental. Issues like depression, low self-esteem and hopelessness is also related to workplace bullying. “

She added, “One should speak up at the workplace and approach the authorities and not needlessly suffer silently from bullying in the workplace.”

Dr Sagar Karia, a psychiatrist, from Mumbai’s civic-run Sion hospital said, “Workplace bullying is a common problem across office workers and people working in different types of jobs. While treating patients for workplace bullying, we first have to rule out any kinds of pre-existing psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia, delusions, and paranoia.”

He added, “Yes, the stress of workplace bullying can indeed affect the heart. Cortisol levels can rise and chemical changes can take place which affect the individual. It is essential to have open lines of communication. It is important for people to seek out help and confide in a friend or colleague. Or visit a mental health professional as counselling can greatly benefit the person. One should also try to not bring the stress and worries related to the workplace home. They should try to engage in activities with friends and family which can reduce stress and unnecessary tension.”

Source: Reuters and the European Heart Journal