Survey finds #MeToo movement affects mental and physical health

By John Murphy, MDLinx
Published November 13, 2018

Key Takeaways

Women report feeling more anger and more confidence since the #MeToo movement began, according to researchers who presented their findings on November 13 at the American Public Health Association’s 2018 Annual Meeting and Expo, San Diego, CA.

Men have also experienced similar feelings associated with the #MeToo movement, but to a lesser extent than women, according to the results of a survey by researchers at North Dakota State University (NDSU), Fargo, ND.

Women reported experiencing more days feeling confident, healthy, and full of energy since the start of the #MeToo movement, the researchers found. But women also reported more days feeling sad, having trouble sleeping, and feeling that their mental health wasn’t good.

Overall, women and men reported having more days feeling angry, although women reported a greater number of these days.

The researchers also found that neither women or men felt differently about their safety and security in the workplace, school, or other public places.

Why now?

“In the fall of 2017, many women, some high profile, came forward in a very public way to share their stories of sexual harassment. As a result of this, we began asking questions about what effects the #MeToo movement was having on the health and perceptions of safety of men and women in our campus community,” said study investigator Mary Larson, PhD, MPH, assistant professor, Department of Public Health, NDSU.

Because the #MeToo movement and the increased focus on sexual assault and harassment may cause re-traumatization for survivors, some individuals may experience worse mental or physical health, Dr. Larson and colleagues hypothesized. The attention to these issues may even affect the health, positively or negatively, of people who haven’t been directly abused or harassed but who are also impacted by this issue.

To find out, the researchers conducted an online survey of NDSU faculty, staff, and students (nearly 38,000 potential participants) to identify their perceived changes in health since first becoming aware of the #MeToo movement.

“We are hopeful that this work will spur future research, and, more importantly, policy, systems, environmental, and educational approaches that will prevent sexual harassment from occurring in the first place,” Dr. Larson said.

The NDSU survey dovetails with other current research, such as a recent article in The Lancet that called for more studies about the impact of sexual harassment on health outcomes.

The authors of that article point out that women are more likely to have adverse health effects after sexual harassment. In addition, victims, witnesses, and bystanders of sexual harassment can suffer psychological consequences such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder—all of which are risk factors for chronic diseases.

“The #MeToo movement presents an opportunity for the public health community to consider sexual harassment a health issue with implications for disease prevention and health promotion,” the authors wrote.

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