Poor job as bad for mental health as no job

29 November, 2012

Having a job with poor working conditions can be just as bad for a person’s mental health as being unemployed, according to new research published in Psychological Medicine recently.

The study, led by Associate Professor Peter Butterworth from the ANU College of Medicine, Biology and Environment, is the first to use nationally representative data from England to compare the mental health of those who are unemployed with those in jobs of differing psychosocial quality.
Poor psychosocial job quality is measured by factors such as high job demands, low job control, poor job security and low job esteem.
Associate Professor Butterworth said the study’s findings support the hypothesis that the mental health benefits of work are restricted to good quality jobs, and that the poorest quality work is comparable to unemployment as a risk factor for poor mental health.
"Our analysis clearly established that there was no difference in the rates of common mental disorders, such as anxiety and depression, between those who were unemployed and those who were in the poorest quality jobs," Associate Professor Butterworth said.
"Both of these groups of individuals were more likely to experience a common mental disorder than those who were in high quality work.
"Importantly, the results from this analysis of UK data confirm previous findings from analysis of Australian data.
"They add to a growing body of research highlighting the need to address the psychosocial aspects of the work environment as part of national government plans to reduce mental illness in the community.
"Policy efforts to improve community mental health should consider psychosocial job quality in conjunction with efforts to increase employment rates.
"The improvement of psychosocial work conditions, such as reducing job demands, and increasing job control, security, and esteem can flow on to improvements in employees’ mental health and reduce the burden of illness on public health systems."
The study draws on data from the 2007 English Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey. The final sample size for the analysis was 2603 respondents.