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Work-related Stressors and Depression

EmployeeAlthough remaining at work or returning to work quickly promotes recovery from depression, work-related stressors can contribute to, exacerbate, or prolong depressive episodes. 

Types of work-related stressors include:

  • Job strain
    • Job strain is characterized by low decision latitude (having little control over the type or pace of work) and high job demands, including competing demands. a
    • Occupations with high job strain include mail workers, restaurant workers (waiters & cooks), nurse aides, assemblers, machine operators, electricians, billing clerks & retail managers. b
  • Work-life interference
    • Work-life interference refers to the increasingly-common spillover of occupational roles and duties into leisure time (i.e., use of email as a primary means of communication can make employees feel that they must be constantly available).
    • Work-life interference also results when family responsibilities impair workers’ job performance (i.e., employees often must juggle multiple family demands, including care-giving for children and older adults). c
  • Workplace discrimination or harassment
    • Hostile and threatening interactions, particularly between supervisors and employees, are associated with increased risk of depression.
  • Job insecurity
    • Particularly during difficult economic times, job insecurity impairs worker performance and morale.

Many sources of work-related stress can be reduced or potentially eliminated with proactive workplace policies.

Onset of new depression associated with changes in job strain

Wang et al. Changes in perceived job strain and the risk of major depression: Results from a population-based longitudinal study. Am J Epidemiology 2009; 169:1085-1091.

a. Karasek. (1979) “Job demands, job decision latitude, and mental strain: Implications for job redesign.” Administrative Science Quarterly, 24:285-307.
b. Karasek, Theorell, Schwartz, et al. (1988) “Job characteristics in relation to the prevalence of myocardial infarction.” American Journal of Public Health, 78:910-18.
c. Family life and work life: An uneasy balance. (2009) Report of the Vanier Institute of the Family.