Careers

Depression: How working long hours can put our mental health at risk

Posted by
Moya Crockett
Published
Depression from overtime

Working long hours could put women at a higher risk of developing depression when compared to their male colleagues, according to some perturbing research.

It’s a sad but perhaps unsurprising fact that workers in the UK put in the longest hours compared to any other country in the European Union. According to the latest figures from the TUC, full-time employees in this country worked an average of 42 hours a week last year – a whole two hours more than the typical EU employee.

But while putting in longer (and increasingly more stressful) hours at work may feel part and parcel of modern life, we need to remain aware of the dangers of stretching ourselves too thin all for the sake of our job – and developing burnout as a result. The condition, which was officially recognised as an “occupational syndrome” by the World Health Organisation earlier this year, results from chronic stress in the workplace that isn’t managed properly, and can result in feelings of fatigue and a general lack of motivation.

And alongside the threat of burnout, there’s another danger of overworking ourselves. According to a major study from earlier this year, women who regularly work 55-hour weeks are more likely to suffer from depression than both men who work the same hours and women who work a more regular schedule.

You may also like

Burnout: why we should resist the UK’s toxic culture of overtime to prevent exhaustion

The research, which was conducted by University College London and Queen Mary University of London, was published on 25 February in the BMJ’s Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. After surveying over 20,000 adults and taking age, income, health and job characteristics into account, researchers found that women who worked extra-long hours had 7.3% more depressive symptoms than those who worked 35-40 hours. 

Do you regularly work 55 hours or more a week? 

However, men who work the same hours were no more likely to show signs of depression – leading researchers to suggest that women’s mental health could be affected by having to shoulder the lion’s share of domestic chores as well as working long hours.

“This is an observational study, so although we cannot establish the exact causes, we do know many women face the additional burden of doing a larger share of domestic labour than men, leading to extensive total work hours, added time pressures and overwhelming responsibilities,” explained Gill Weston of the UCL Institute of Epidemiology and Health Care, PhD candidate and lead author of the study.

You may also like

Burnout: 3 women share their experiences of overcoming career exhaustion and paralysis

Researchers analysed data from Understanding Society, the UK Household Longitudinal Study (UKHLS), which has been tracking the health and wellbeing of a representative sample of 40,000 households across the UK since 2009.

They found that women who worked for all or most weekends were also more likely than men to experience debilitating low moods, although both genders were affected by having to work on Saturdays and Sundays. 

Watch: Can better sleep reduce your stress? 

Weston pointed out that the study’s findings reflect the fact that “women in general are more likely to be depressed than men”. A 2016 report by the Mental Health Foundation stated that 19.7% of people in the UK aged 16 or older displayed signs of anxiety or depression – and this percentage was higher among women (22.5%) than men (16.8%). 

However, gender isn’t the only factor that influences people’s mental health – and, importantly, it’s not just middle class women in high-flying jobs who feel the strain of working long hours.

“Independent of their working patterns, we also found that workers with the most depressive symptoms were older, on lower incomes, smokers, in physically demanding jobs, and who were dissatisfied at work,” Weston said. 

You may also like

“Why looking after plants is the ultimate form of self-care”

She added: “We hope our findings will encourage employers and policy-makers to think about how to reduce the burdens and increase support for women who work long or irregular hours – without restricting their ability to work when they wish to.

“More sympathetic working practices could bring benefits both for workers and for employers – of both sexes.”

For advice and support on dealing with depression, visit the NHS Moodzone or Mind.

Images: Getty Images 

Topics

Share this article

Author

Moya Crockett

Moya is Contributing Women’s Editor at stylist.co.uk and Deputy Editor of Stylist Loves, Stylist's daily email newsletter. Carrying a bottle of hot sauce on her person at all times is one of the many traits she shares with both Beyoncé and Hillary Clinton.

Recommended by Moya Crockett

Careers

These 3 women came face to face with career burnout. Here’s how they overcame it

“I ended up with a medical device that helps my brain function.”

Posted by
Susan Devaney
Published
Life

This is the one symptom of depression outsiders really struggle to understand

“It makes zero sense.”

Posted by
Anna Brech
Published
Food

Experts reveal best breakfast to help people fighting depression

This is, according to experts, the ideal breakfast for people at risk of depression

Posted by
Kayleigh Dray
Published
Careers

This is how the UK’s most productive women manage their inbox

It’s time to take back control.

Posted by
Jo Usmar
Published
Life

Work related stress: A doctor’s advice on how to cope with excessive stress and avoid burnout

An expert on what workplace-related stress is, and how you can combat it.

Posted by
Stylist Team
Published