Research has shown a direct link between long work hours and increased mental health problems. Depression, fatigue, and anxiety are common issues that cause reduced productivity and increased disability among the working population. To understand the correlation between excessive work hours and mental health impairment, M. Virtanen of the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health in Helsinki, Finland, conducted a study that looked at how longer working hours affected the onset of depression and anxiety.
Nearly 3,000 full-time British civil servants, ranging in age from 44 to 66 years old, who were part of a larger study were examined for symptoms of depression and anxiety in 1997. Virtanen assessed the increase or decrease in working hours and the levels of anxiety and depression again in 2001 and 2004. The results revealed that individuals who had no evidence of mental health problems in 1997 were at increased risk for anxiety and depression in 2001 if they worked more than 55 hours per week. Specifically, each 10-hour increase in working hours was directly related to a 17% increase in risk for depression and a 22% higher risk for anxiety 5 years later.
Virtanen also discovered that women, who may feel additional stress from domestic and child-rearing responsibilities, were 40% more likely to develop depression and 31% more likely to develop anxiety when they worked 50 hours per week as opposed to those who worked only 40 hours. This suggests that women who work even minimal overtime are more vulnerable to mental health challenges. The study also revealed that women who worked overtime were more likely to have myocardial infarction, a risk factor for depression, than women who worked only 40 hours. However, this symptom was not evident in the men, regardless of the number of hours they worked. After evaluating all the evidence, Virtanen also found that overtime predicted a higher level of alcohol misuse among the men, but not among the women. Virtanen added, “If these associations are causal, the findings of the present study suggest that long working hours should be recognized as a potential risk factor for the development of anxiety and depression in women.”
Virtanen, M., Ferrie, J. E., Singh-Manoux, A., Shipley, M. J., Stansfeld, S. A., Marmot, M. G., Ahola, K., Vahtera, J., Kivimäki, M. Long Working Hours and Symptoms of Anxiety and Depression: A 5-year Follow-up of the Whitehall II Study. Psychological Medicine 41.12 (2011): 2485-494. Print.
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