Is Work Making You Mentally Ill?

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Feel like your job is driving you crazy? You might be onto something — especially if you’re a woman.

A new study associates a high level of work stress with an increased risk of taking sick leave for mental disorders. The study will be published in the August issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, which is the official publication of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

Researchers from Karolinska Institutet, a medical university in Sweden, conducted the study. They used data to examine how psychosocial factors at work affect rates of sick leave due to mental health reasons, a press release from the journal states:

On five-year follow-up of nearly 12,000 workers, the rate of sick leave due to mental disorders was about eight percent. Three-fourths of workers taking mental health sick leave were women.

People at greater risk of sick leave for mental disorders include workers with:

  • High job demands
  • Job strain (defined as high job demands with low control)
  • Iso-strain (defined as high demands and low control plus low levels of social support at work)
  • Multiple unhealthy behaviors

A high level of physical activity was found to be a protective factor, although the study authors note that efforts to improve healthy behaviors without also addressing the work environment might be less effective at reducing sick leave for mental disorders.

According to the American Psychological Association, work stress can lead to burnout. The association defines burnout as “a condition marked by emotional exhaustion and negative or cynical attitudes toward others and yourself.”

Burnout can in turn lead to depression, which has been linked to many physical health problems.

The APA’s suggestions for dealing with job stress include taking workday breaks, walking away from a situation when you feel angry, and setting reasonable expectations both for yourself and others.

How do you prefer to cope with stress at work? Share your thoughts in our Forums. It’s a place where you can swap questions and answers on money-related matters, life hacks and ingenious ways to save.

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