The Impact of Sexual Harassment on Depressive Symptoms during the Early Occupational Career

Jason N. Houle, Jeremy Staff, Jeylan T. Mortimer, Christopher Uggen, Amy Blackstone

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

91 Scopus citations


Sexual harassment has been theorized as a stressor with consequences for the physical and mental health of its targets. Although social scientists have documented a negative association between sexual harassment and mental health, few longitudinal studies have investigated the association between sexual harassment and depressive symptoms. Using longitudinal survey data from the Youth Development Study, combined with in-depth interviews, this article draws on Louise Fitzgerald’s theoretical framework, stress theory, and the life course perspective to assess the impact of sexual harassment on depressive affect during the early occupational career. In support of Fitzgerald’s model, the authors’ findings confirm that sexual harassment is a stressor that is associated with increased depressive symptoms. Quantitative results show that women and men who experience more frequent sexual harassment at work have significantly higher levels of depressed mood than nonharassed workers, even after controlling for prior harassment and depressive symptoms. Moreover, the authors find evidence that sexual harassment early in the career has long-term effects on depressive symptoms in adulthood. Interviews with a subset of survey respondents point to a variety of coping strategies and reveal further links between harassment and other aspects of mental health, such as anger and self-doubt.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)89-105
Number of pages17
JournalSociety and Mental Health
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2011


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