Depression Rates Found to Vary by Occupation
> 10/16/2007 10:45:15 AM

Americans working low-pay, low-skill, low-benefit jobs with significant rates of turnover also report the highest rates of clinical depression, according to a new release from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. This report is hardly surprising, and its statistics grow even more predictably discouraging when one considers that said professions make up the largest (and fastest growing) job market in the country.

Generally speaking, previously observed patterns held true, according to survey results drawn from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health: 7% of the workforce reported experiencing periods of depression over the previous year that lasted at least two weeks and met related diagnostic criteria; the condition was more common among women than men and more common among younger workers than their older counterparts. Personal service jobs ranked highest on the list, with nearly 11% of those who care for the very young, the elderly and the physically or mentally disabled qualifying for depression diagnoses. Food industry workers ranked second with 10.3% affected, implying that many waitstaff, cooks and bartenders suffer from depression. Health care and social workers were not far behind at 9.6%. Rounding out the list was the "least depressive" class of employment in the United States: engineers, architects and surveyors.

The most important question raised by these numbers remains unanswered: why? The fact that service industry positions are very often unstable, pay relatively little for physically and emotionally challenging work and do not offer health insurance or the prospect of career advancement is one seemingly obvious explanation. This theory also implies that architects report depression far less often because their positions are more frequently well-established, highly lucrative and creatively satisfying, but it is clearly not enough. Which variables, for example, explain why gender-based discrepancies are so large among certain types of workers? Depression will always be observed nearly twice as often among women, but the highest rates of depression overall (14.8%) were recorded among women in the food service industry, and the highest rates for men, noted in the extremely expansive "arts, design, entertainment, media and sports" field, were only 6.7% Why are women working in the service industry nearly three times as likely as their male counterparts to suffer from Major Depressive Disorder? Why is the condition so common among those who care for the elderly and the infirm? Is simply being in the presence of others whose mental and physical health is less than perfect a sufficient trigger for depression?

The most obvious conclusion employers can take from these statistics is that they need to consider the relative costs and benefits of offering mental health care options to their employees. While such initiatives will no doubt prove expensive, certain companies would no doubt save money in the long run; depression has been established as one of the leading causes of disability for workers aged 18 to 64, and American companies lose an estimated $40 billion every year due to declining productivity and absenteeism directly related to depression. Unfortunately, many restaurants and related establishments cannot afford to institute these measures.

Still, impressions drawn from this report are not exclusively negative. The job categories were so broad that only general conclusions can be made from the available data: even within the somewhat limited scope of the service and healthcare industries lies a nearly endless variety of positions. The responsibilites and circumstances of childcare workers differ significantly from  those who treat the elderly, and workers who care for disabled individuals at home work in very different environments than those employed by assisted living communities; some may be included in both groups. The one statistic  from this study that could offer the slightest solace to those profoundly dissatisfied with their work lives prevalence of depression among full-time employees remained considerably lower than among the unemployed (7% and 12.7%, respectively). While the number of workers who are unsatisfied with their positions and suffer from depression and related disorders remains far too high, employment on its own seems to be a relatively effective deterrent.

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