Depression has been linked to a number of environmental factors, including stress, lack of physical activity, exposure to toxins, social isolation and lack of medical and social support. So it should come as no surprise that people in jobs with higher levels of these factors are more at risk for depression.
Yet all jobs contain at least a small amount of stress, and many professions require workers to endure one or more of the other risk factors.
Depression cannot be blamed just on those factors; genetic or family predisposition to the disease is thought to be triggered by these outside influences. That’s why every profession can point to workers with depression, and why one worker can be depressed while another, toiling under the exact same conditions, can be unfazed. As Dr Michelle B. Riba, associate director of the Depression Center at the University of Michigan, puts it, “What might be stressful to you might not be stressful to me.”
Nevertheless, some professions present a higher risk for depression, at least statistically. And some of the most risky professions may surprise you.
Take, for instance, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s analysis of data from the 2012 National Violent Death Reporting System. The
CDC took suicide data from 17 states and listed the 20 occupations with the highest suicide rates:
- Farmworkers, fishermen, forestry (85 suicides per 100,000).
- Construction and mining trades (53).
- Installation, maintenance, repairs (48).
- Factory production workers (35).
- Architects and engineers (32).
- Police, fire-fighters and other protective services (31).
- Arts, design, entertainment, athletes, media (24).
- Computer and mathematics (23).
- Transportation and material movers (22).
- Corporate managers (20).
- Lawyers and others in the legal system (19).
- Health care providers (19).
- Social and physical scientists (17).
- Business and financial services (16).
- Health care support services (15).
- Community and social service workers (14).
- Sales and marketing (13).
- Building and grounds maintenance (13).
- Food service workers (13).
- Child care and other personal care and service (8).
Another study, from the journal Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology in 2014 examined data from more than 200,000 workers in 55 professions in Western Pennsylvania and found the highest rate of depression among bus drivers. The lowest was among those in “amusement and recreation services,” which includes workers in sports, fitness and performing arts.
Riba says doctors and other health care providers are under especially high levels of stress these days. “We see significant incidence of depression in medical students, interns and residents, and a fair amount of burnout in doctors, which is correlated to depression,” she says. She adds public safety professions such as police officers, fire-fighters and first responders, and airline pilots and air traffic controllers to the list of high-stress occupations. But again, no job is exempt. “Even journalists,” she says. “I know of one doing articles on the Flint [Michigan] water crisis, and seeing all the children who were exposed [to toxic drinking water]. Or journalists who have to go to war-torn countries. How do you prepare for that?”
Many Risk Factors
There may be numerous reasons why some professions have higher suicide rates. “People working in certain occupations are at greater risk for suicide due to job isolation, a stressful work environment, trouble at work and home, lower income and education, and less access to mental health services,” Wendy LiKamWa McIntosh, lead researcher of the CDC report, told HealthDay.com in 2016. “Farmers have additional risk factors like social isolation and unwillingness to seek mental health services,” she said. Exposure to pesticides may also play a role with farmers and construction and maintenance workers by affecting neurological health, the report states.
The Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology report concluded that “Industries with the highest rates [of depression] tended to be those which, on the national level, require frequent or difficult interactions with the public or clients, and have high levels of stress and low levels of physical activity.”
And research has linked higher suicide rates among police to stressors including exposure to traumatic and violent events, heavy workload, shift work and easy access to weapons. Female police officers also face the added stress of working in a traditionally male-dominated environment.
An Enormous Burden
Depression places an enormous financial and productivity burden on U.S. workers and the economy as a whole. According to the Depression Center at the University of Michigan, between 2 and 4 percent of U.S. workers suffer from depression, and up to half of those experience short-term disability. In addition:
- Depression costs employers over $44 billion every year in lost productivity, 81 percent of which is from poor performance.
- Employers lose 27 work days per worker with depression, two-thirds of which is classified as “presenteeism:” when workers are present but less productive.
- The cost of depression to employers in lost work days is as great or greater than the cost of heart disease, diabetes, back problems and other health conditions.
Knowing this can help those in high-risk professions prepare, Riba says. “There are professions where one needs to make sure one thinks about mood problems. In professions where stress is an important aspect, individuals have to take that into account while knowing themselves and their mental health history,” she says.
Employers can help as well. For instance, many medical schools, she says, now prepare students and their families for what lies ahead and discuss ways to cope with the stress. “We can now predict certain times in medical school life when there will be additional stress, like during exams or certain courses like gross anatomy, and warn people,” she says. “I am sure that is true in police and fire academies as well.”
Source: US News