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Improving working conditions may reduce depression costs: Study

By COS Staff

The sum total of adverse working conditions explains a substantial portion of the risk of depression in working-age adults, suggests a recent study out of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM). 

“These findings add to the growing body of evidence that employment is an important source of divergence in mental health across midlife,” according to the report by Sarah Burgard and colleagues of the Institute for Social Research at University of Michigan.

Using an approach called item response theory, the researchers analyzed the relationship between working conditions and depressive symptoms in a nationally representative sample of working-age adults. The study included four waves of data collection over 15 years in nearly 1,900 respondents and was published in the September Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, official publication of the ACOEM.

The results showed that workers with a higher total "negative working conditions score" also had higher scores for depression. For 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 the authors.

Past studies of the effects of working conditions on depression risk have tended to focus on only one particular risk factor, such as job strain. While the new study can't link any particular working condition to depression risk, it helps in showing how the sum total of negative working conditions is related to depressive symptoms.

The study helps to clarify the net effects of working conditions on depression in the working population — a very common and costly problem for employers and the U.S. economy at large.

The findings “suggest the need to consider the role of good jobs in enhancing worker productivity and reducing the costs of depression for workers, their families, and healthcare systems,” Burgard and co-authors conclude.

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