Depression Risk May Be Linked To Demanding Jobs

Mental health problems not only affect one’s wellbeing, they can also affect the economy. In South Africa alone, depression in the workplace can cost over R200 billion in lost productivity, whereas in the United States, depression can costs the U.S. economy over than $45 billion a year in lost productivity. As depression is often the leading cause of workplace absenteeism, a new study has attempted to evaluate how the workplace can affect one’s mental health.

The study

Researchers led by the Black Dog Institute in Australia attempted examined whether people experiencing job strain at age 45 were at an increased risk of developing mental illness by age 50. They analysed data from the UK National Child Development Study. The researchers explained job strain as a combination of high work pace, intensity and conflicting demands, combined with low control or decision-making capacity.

For the study 6870 participants, aged 45, answered questionnaires testing for factors such as decision authority, skill discretion and questions about job pace, intensity and conflicting demands. At age 50, the participants completed the Malaise Inventory questionnaire. This is a psychological scale used in health surveys that indicates symptoms of common mental illness. The study accounted for other factors including divorce, individual workers’ temperament and personality, their IQ, level of education, prior mental health problems, financial problems, housing instability, and other stressful life events like death or illness.

The results

The study suggested that those experiencing higher job strain were at a greater risk of developing mental illness by age 50, regardless of sex or occupational class. Specifically, the study found that if workplaces were to reduce job strain, they would be preventing up to 14 % of new cases of common mental illness.

Lead study author and associate professor Samuel Harvey hopes that these findings highlight the importance of mental health in the workplace to employers. “Workplaces can adopt a range of measures to reduce job strain,” says Harvey, “and finding ways to increase workers’ perceived control of their work is often a good practical first step. This can be achieved,” he goes on to explain, “through initiatives that involve workers in as many decisions as possible.”

Read more about the study here.

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