According to the latest research by the Black Dog Institute, high strain on the job is linked to an increased risk of common mental health issues such as depression and anxiety among middle-aged workers.

The research shows that up to 14 per cent of new cases of common mental health illnesses, such as depression could be prevented simply by reducing job strain.

Job strain was classified by researchers as a combination of high work pace, intensity and conflicting demands, together with low control or decision-making power.

According to lead author Associate Professor Samuel Harvey from the Black Dog Institute, mental illness is the leading cause of sickness absence and long term work incapacity in the nation.  Harvey explained that this absence equates to $11 billion lost by Australian businesses annually.

The good news is that research also provides strong evidence that organisations can improve employee wellbeing by modifying their workplaces to focus on being more mentally healthy.

Harvey explained,

“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 organisations can improve employee wellbeing by modifying their workplaces to make them more mentally healthy.”

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The team involved in the research were from all over the world, analysing health data from 6870 participants. They investigated if people with job strain at the age of 45 were more likely to develop mental illness by age 50.

They also considered non-work related factors such as divorce, financial woes, housing, instability, stressful life events etc. Researchers also included in their research controls for people’s temperament, personality and other personal factors like IQ, education etc.

Researchers found that participants experiencing higher job demands, lower job control, and higher job strain were at greater odds of developing mental illness by age 50.

“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 Associate Professor Harvey.

“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.”

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