Working long hours raises risk of depression

Woman looking stressed at her desk, eyes closed

Woman looking stressed at her desk, eyes closed  (iStock)

If your job is rewarding, challenging and everything you could hope for, but you still find yourself, unhappy, take a look at how many hours you work.

A new study confirmed that working longer hours, no matter how much you love your job, raises your risk of depression. Although this is not a shocker of a study, it’s something to consider when you’re thinking of staying a little longer to finish up your work each night.

Related: 11 High-Stress Jobs

The study, published in the online journal PLoS ONE, followed about 2,000 middle-aged British government workers and found the odds of a major depressive episode were more than double for those working 11 or more hours a day, compared to those working seven to eight hours. The increased risk remained even after controlling for income, marital status and other socioeconomic factors.

"Although occasionally working overtime may have benefits for the individual and society, it is important to recognize that working excessive hours is also associated with an increased risk of major depression," said the study's lead author Dr. Marianna Virtanen of the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health and University College London.

This is not the first study of its kind. A number of studies have looked at the effects of working long hours, with some showing that it’s associated with an increased risk of sleep disturbances and anxiety symptoms, which can be early signs or part of depression.  

In this study, being young and/or female also predicted a higher risk of depression as did moderate alcohol use. Employees who worked long hours were more likely to be men, married, and tended to have higher-level positions than employees who worked 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. They also tended to drink alcohol above the recommended limits.

Although the study didn’t look at how working late contributes to depression, the authors suggested it may be because it causes greater work-family conflict, leading to a strain on marriages and relationships. It also gives workers less time to unwind and relax after work, and a stressful job may keep cortisol levels high over the long term, which is also a known contributor to depression.     

“I think it is important to raise awareness that working long hours may also involve health risks,”  Virtanen said. “When people are aware they might stop and think whether it's possible to work shorter hours, at least periodically."

Related: Germiest Jobs