Job Stress Blamed for Sizeable Proportion of Depression by Caroline Cassels

Negative working conditions, including low job satisfaction, little control, and a lack of appreciation by employers, are responsible for a sizeable proportion of depression in middle-aged adults, new research suggests.

Investigators at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research in Ann Arbor found that workers with a higher total “negative working conditions” score also had higher scores for depressive symptoms.

In workers with the total highest scores, negative working conditions accounted for about one third of the standard deviation in depressive symptoms, a “substantial difference,” according to investigators.

“These findings add to the growing body of evidence that employment is an important source of divergence in mental health across midlife,” the researchers, led by Sarah A. Burgard, PhD, write.

The study is published in the September issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

Novel Methodology

Previous longitudinal studies of negative working conditions have tended to use a single exposure indicator, such as job strain. However, the investigators note that although this methodology has predicted health outcomes in a large number of populations, it may not capture the full range of negative conditions individuals experience on the job.

For the study, the researchers analyzed the relationship between a large number of working conditions and depressive symptoms on the basis of 4 waves of data collection during a period of 15 years in 1889 US workers aged 25 years and older.

The workers were asked about all working conditions, including job satisfaction, work/life balance, conflicting demands, and whether they felt appreciated for their work.

Researchers created a “novel” summary score of negative working conditions that encompassed all available working condition measures and examined the link between this score and depressive symptoms.

“Our measurement strategy can capture a wider range of experiences that workers face on the job, while not requiring the same set of items to be fielded in each wave of a survey,” the authors write.

The investigators found that workers with higher total negative working conditions scores also had the highest scores for depressive symptoms, as measured by the Center of Epidemiological Studies–Depression scale (CES-D).

For workers with the highest total scores, negative working conditions accounted for about one third of the standard deviation in depressive symptoms, “a substantial difference,” according to the authors.

These findings, the investigators note, underscore the importance of the “role of good jobs in enhancing worker productivity and reducing the costs of depression for workers, their families, and healthcare systems.”

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