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Can our work environment cause depression?

Research 16 May 2016
Young women in workplace stressed 700 411

New research has found negative work environments to be associated with poorer mental health, in particular, depressive symptoms.

A recent review of 59 studies from workplaces across Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand were analysed. The review found that employees, both men and women, who reported job strain, bullying and lack of ability to make work-related decisions were at higher risk of developing depressive symptoms, including stress-related disorders and taking psychologically related sick leave.

Dr Mandy Deeks, psychologist and Jean Hailes Deputy CEO, says negative work environments can affect both your physical and mental health in many ways. Not only can depression, sadness and anxiety increase in these environments, but prolonged stress at work can result in increased episodes of illness such as colds and flu-like symptoms, allergies, muscular aches and pains, headaches, problems with concentration, fatigue, difficulty sleeping and even digestive problems.

The good news is there are many things people can do to boost their resilience when they’re in negative environments and under stress, says Dr Deeks. “This includes making sure you aim for a healthy lifestyle and eat nutritious foods throughout your day, get out at lunch time and get some fresh air and a bit of exercise if you can. Getting quality sleep is important at this time and often you need to be kind to yourself and find something that you love to do that makes you feel good about you. If you need a moment during the day, it‘s okay to take five minutes and find a quiet space to just breathe and refocus.”

Not having clarity around roles or responsibilities and not being able to make decisions or feel valued at work will affect your mental health, says Dr Deeks. “If this is you, it’s helpful to find someone you trust or a health professional to talk to about this,” she says. “They may provide insight and thoughts on specific ways you can deal with your stress and the environment.”

Dr Deeks says if your work environment is negative, think about ways that you might be able to get relief or help, as staying in that space is not good for your health.

Visit our workplace hub for more research and news on workplace health or learn more about ways to reduce stress and improve your mental and emotional health.