Work, Work Hours & Mental Illness

I have frequently discussed the importance of examining other real-life factors, such as economics and housing, as we discuss reducing mental illness and suicides. Well, here’s a great article on why: A new study directly ties shift work and varying hours to depression. From the article:

In particular, the study found, shift workers were 33% more likely to have depression than people who didn’t work nights or irregular schedules.

Shift workers also had a higher chance of developing anxiety, but in this case the difference was too small to rule out the possibility that it was due to chance.

Women appeared particularly vulnerable to the negative mental health effects of shift work, researchers report in the American Journal of Public Health.

Compared to women who worked consistent weekday schedules, women who worked nights or split shifts were 78% more likely to experience adverse mental health outcomes.

The article was based on a report which examined seven studies, totally 28,438 participants. It specifically blamed this increase in depression and anxiety to a disruption of sleep; the connection between a lack of sleep and mental illness has been well documented.

This, obviously, is not the only study which ties work challenges to mental illness – or economic trouble in general. When unemployment increases, so does depression and suicide. Increases in foreclosures and evictions are directly tied to increases in suicides, and states which increased their minimum wages saw slower growth in suicides than states which held their minimum wages even.

This goes back to one of the points I have hit on this blog and in my advocacy over and over again: Mental illness is not always about mental health. It’s myopic to make such an assumption. As we talk about reducing mental illness, we have to talk about increasing the social safety net, about making sure people can get good jobs for fair wages, about giving people a chance to recover from economic hardship. And yes, this unquestionably informs my politics.

The working poor are not more likely to have mental illness or die by suicide than the economically secure, but suicide increases in both groups when there is a change in economic status. We can’t necessarily stop someone’s economic situation from turning south, but we need to at least make sure that everyone has the resources in place to give them a chance to recover.

 

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