Your Work Schedule Might Be Putting You At Risk For Depression, Study Shows

Written by Jenni Gritters, M.S.
Jenni Gritters is a health journalist and certified yoga teacher from Seattle, WA. She has a degree in psychology from Bucknell University and a master's degree in journalism from Boston University.

Image by Studio Firma / Stocksy

If you regularly clock more than 55 hours per week at work, you might want to take a step back and consider the effects of these long hours on your mental health. According to a new study from the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, working more than 55 hours per week is linked to a heightened risk for developing depression, especially if you're a woman. Working weekends also proved to be bad news for mental health, no matter your gender.

We already know that working long hours has been linked to poor physical health. But the effect of long workweeks on mental health hasn't been studied extensively, so researchers from several universities in the U.K. and U.S. decided to investigate. They drew on data from Understanding Society, a well-known U.K. longitudinal study that has been following 40,000 households since 2009. The researchers focused on information from more than 11,000 men and 12,000 women, looking specifically at how depressive symptoms were linked to working more than 40 hours per week.

The study authors found that overall, men tended to work longer hours than women. For both sexes, working on the weekends was associated with significantly more depressive symptoms. In other words, the more weekends people worked, the more likely they were to report experiencing depression. For women, working more than 55 hours per week was also linked with extremely poor mental health, compared to working a normal 40-hour week. (Men did not show this same link.)

"Women who worked 55 or more hours a week and/or who worked most/every weekend had the worst mental health of all," the authors of the study said in a news release.

Why is this effect especially bad for women? According to the study authors, many women raise children in addition to working, which could cause elevated pressure: "Our findings of more depressive symptoms among women working extra-long hours might also be explained by the potential double burden experienced by women when their long hours in paid work are added on their time in domestic labor," they explained.

Working outside of the office has become increasingly normal for most people, largely enabled by the ability to digitally connect with bosses, co-workers, and clients from any location. We wake up and check our email from bed, we respond to Slack messages on the train, and we even take work calls from foreign countries. But this new study should make us pause as we consider the detrimental effects of working such grueling hours, especially for women.

The study's authors are careful to point out that this is purely an observational study, which means they can't say that long working hours causes depression. At this point, we only know that people who work long hours are more likely to also be depressed. But the authors suggest that employers and policymakers consider reducing work burdens and improving working conditions, especially for women. As individuals, it's also worth considering ways to cut back on working late into the night or on the weekends, whether it's leaving your phone outside the bedroom, designating certain times of the week as "work free," or talking to your boss about tactics for reducing extra-long workdays. At the end of the day, your mental health is what matters most.

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