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Up To 14 Percent Of New Mental Illnesses Caused By Job Stress

Jim Folk author
Written by: Jim Folk.
Medically reviewed by: Marilyn Folk, BScN.
Last updated: December 1, 2019

Up To 14 Percent Of New Mental Illnesses Caused By Job Stress

Chronic stress is a common contributing factor to the development of some mental illnesses, such as anxiety disorder and depression. For example, chronic stress can change how the body and brain function. These changes can increase your tendency to be anxious, if you are already an anxious person.

Moreover, the changes caused by chronic stress can cause a person to be discouraged about his job. Feeling hopeless, helpless, and trapped are common behaviors that contribute to feeling depressed.

In fact, the symptoms caused by persistently elevated stress are often the first indication that a mental illness exists or has the potential to occur. You can learn more about how stress contributes to the development of anxiety disorder and depression in Chapters 3 and 14 in the Recovery Support area of our website.

There are many sources of stress, including from our jobs. Recent research has found that by reducing job strain, mental illness arising from the job could be avoided. While working has many mental health benefits, making small, but important changes, such as setting realistic performance expectations, avoiding conflicting job demands, and giving employees more control of their work and work environments, this 14 percent of new cases of mental illness could be prevented.

Reducing stress is a great way to maintain healthy physical and mental health, including the stress from the job. You can read the press release about this latest research below.

Job Strain Linked To Onset Of Common Mental Illness

Black Dog Institute

Workplaces that reduce job strain could prevent up to 14 percent of new cases of common mental illness from occurring, according to new research.

Published in the Lancet Psychiatry, the results confirm that high job strain is associated with an increased risk of developing common mental disorders such as depression and anxiety amongst middle-aged workers.

Job strain is a term used to describe the combination of high work pace, intensity, and conflicting demands, coupled with low control or decision-making capacity.

"Our modelling used detailed data collected over 50 years to examine the various ways in which particular work conditions may impact an employee's mental health.

"These findings serve as a wake-up call for the role workplace initiatives should play in our efforts to curb the rising costs of mental disorders.

"It's important to remember that for most people, being in work is a good thing for their mental health. But this research provides strong evidence that organizations can improve employee wellbeing by modifying their workplaces to make them more mentally healthy."

Examining 6870 participants, researchers investigated whether people experiencing job strain at age 45 were at an increased risk of developing mental illness by age 50.

To determine levels of job strain, participants completed questionnaires at age 45 testing for factors including decision authority (the ability to make decisions about work), skill discretion (the opportunity to use skills during work) and questions about job pace, intensity and conflicting demands.

The researchers also accounted for non-workplace factors including divorce, financial problems, housing instability, and other stressful life events like death or illness. The models developed in this study controlled for individual workers' temperament and personality, their IQ, level of education, prior mental health problems and a range of other factors from across their early lives.

At age 50, participants completed the Malaise Inventory questionnaire, a psychological scale used in health surveys to indicate symptoms of common mental illness.

The final modelling suggests that those experiencing higher job demands, lower job control and higher job strain were at greater odds of developing mental illness by age 50, regardless of sex or occupational class.

"Our research attempted to account for the possible reasons an individual's work conditions could impact their mental health - and this modelling is the most complete ever published," said the senior author.

"The results indicate that if we were able to eliminate job strain situations in the workplace, up to 14 percent of cases of common mental illness could be avoided.

"Workplaces can adopt a range of measures to reduce job strain, and finding ways to increase workers' perceived control of their work is often a good practical first step. This can be achieved through initiatives that involve workers in as many decisions as possible."


The research was a collaboration between the Black Dog Institute, UNSW Sydney, King's College London, The Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, NHS Foundation Trust, Norwegian Institute of Public Health, the Nordland Hospital Trust (Norway) and the Arctic University of Norway.

It is part of a program of research focused on workplace mental health that is funded by the icare foundation and the Mental Health Branch of NSW Health.

Media enquiries: Emily Cook, +61 455 100 277 or e.m.cook@blackdog.org.au

Case studies and interviews available on request. The full research article can be accessed at:

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The combination of good self-help information and working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist is the most effective way to address anxiety disorder and its many symptoms. Until the core causes of anxiety are addressed - the underlying factors that motivate apprehensive behavior - a struggle with anxiety disorder can return again and again. Identifying and successfully addressing anxiety's underlying factors is the best way to overcome problematic anxiety.

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