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Good news for slackers: Working too hard makes you depressed

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Stressful jobs double risk of depression for young workers

* Ian Sample, science correspondent
* The Guardian
* Thursday August 2 2007

High-stress jobs make young workers twice as likely to suffer from major depression and anxiety disorders, according to a British study of mental health in the workplace.

Psychiatric assessments of nearly 1,000 people in the early stages of their careers revealed that one in 20 can expect to experience serious depression or anxiety every year as a direct result of work.

The study is the first of its kind to establish a firm link between stressful working conditions and poor mental health among people who had no previous history of the disorders before their career began.

Previous studies across Europe and the US have found that cases of depression have risen in the past two decades, mirroring increases in reported work stress.

Researchers at the institute of psychiatry at King's College London, who conducted the study, called on employers to be vigilant for signs of chronic stress in their workplace. In Britain, lost productivity due to depression and anxiety is estimated to cost companies £12bn a year.

The psychiatrists interviewed 972 employed men and women from the city of Dunedin, New Zealand, who have been enrolled in a long-term medical study since birth. All of the volunteers were aged 32 and held a variety of jobs, from politician and police officer to brain surgeon and dustbin collector. The study revealed a marked increase in cases of major depressive disorder and generalised anxiety disorder among people in highly demanding jobs, with 14% of women affected and 10% of men. Of these, 45% were directly attributed to stress in the workplace.

"Work stress appears to bring on diagnosable forms of depression and anxiety in previously healthy young workers; in fact the occurrence is two times higher than among workers whose jobs are less demanding," said Dr Maria Melchior, an epidemiologist and lead author of the study, to be published in the journal Psychological Medicine later this month.

Research consistently shows a greater prevalence of depression among women, though the risk appears to be higher only in women of reproductive age, suggesting that the female sex hormone oestrogen may play a role, said Professor Terrie Moffitt, a co-author on the study.

The most high-pressured jobs were not necessarily held by white-collar workers in city firms, the researchers found. Head chefs in large restaurants were among the most highly stressed, probably because they had to cope with constant inflexible deadlines, and very public failure for any mistakes they made..