A Link between Occupation and Mental Illness?
Mental health is closely linked to occupation. After all, work is at the core of most adults’ lives. For instance, the American Institute of Stress (AIS) recently indicated that about 66% of people’s stressors are job-related.1 A particular problem is the lack of work-life balance, which can trigger certain mental illnesses like depression and anxiety. Dr. Nicola Davies delves into the evidence surrounding this connection between work and mental illness. Below we have discussed the 10 most stressful jobs in America.
Job Categories and Their Respective Mental Health Risks
Numerous studies have explored the occupational characteristics related to mental health, such as job demands, supervisor support, work stress, and autonomy,2 with the key finding being that certain occupations are more prone to mental disorders. Stress, in particular, has been found to be positively correlated with mental health.
The 10 most stressful jobs in America are presented in the table below: 4
|Enlisted military personnel||72.74|
|Senior Corporate Executive||48.56|
|Public Relations Executive||48.50|
Source: Elkins (2017)
Emergency and Rescue Services
Firefighters, soldiers, policemen, and other disaster response personnel are at high risk of mental health issues as a result of being exposed to different degrees of violence and emergency situations. For instance, high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression have been found among firefighters. Those who are exposed to more fatal incidents are more likely to suffer from mental issues.5 Their level of psychiatric morbidity has also been found to be above average. Likewise, around 100,000 active police officers in the US suffer from PTSD, with many also living with the comorbidities of depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation.6 A paper from Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health confirmed that police and firefighters are at higher risk for mental illnesses as compared to civilians, and that their exposure to trauma is related to the development of alcohol use, mood, and anxiety disorders.7 In a study of military personnel, almost 25% of 5,500 Army soldiers were diagnosed with a mental disorder such as depression or PTSD, with PTSD rates being about 15 times higher than the general public.8
The Germanwings Flight 9525 incident in 2015 brought airline personnel’s mental health status to the forefront. Indeed, the crash was reportedly caused by Andreas Lubitz, a pilot who had previously sought treatment for suicidal tendencies, depression, and psychosomatic illness. An international survey of 3,485 pilots indicated that 12.6% of the sample population met depression thresholds and 4.1% were thinking about suicide. 9 Besides jet lag, the stressors experienced by pilots include long working hours, pressure from the responsibility of passenger safety, and cockpit conditions such as low oxygen levels and noise. Unfortunately, some pilots may be hesitant to seek treatment due to the impact this could have on career advancements.
Public Relations (PR)
Like most PR jobs, newspaper reporters, broadcasters, and event coordinators, the role often includes tight deadlines, managing unpredictable deals, covering violent social issues, and adapting to a hectic workplace environment. These factors may explain why around 34% of PR professionals experience mental illness. Almost half of them reported that they perceive their colleagues to be unaccepting of their condition, and this lack of social support and taboo around mental illness does not encourage help-seeking behavior.10
In one survey, twenty-one percent of 261 US-based senior executives reported significant levels of psychopathy.11 Furthermore, the anti-social characteristics often found in executives, such as lack of empathy and deceitfulness, may further cause psychological turmoil to their subordinates. Indeed, middle managers, who often help senior executives, have higher stress levels due to their demands of their job.2 This may be one of the reasons why such managerial positions are linked to high levels of depression and anxiety.13
A study of 508 taxi drivers found that 33% presented with at least 5 symptoms of depression, which has mainly been attributed to lack of leisure activities.14 Another study found that, compared to the general population, public transportation drivers had higher rates of alcohol abuse, major depressive episodes, burnout syndrome, and anxiety.15 Drivers are often required to deal with long working hours and night shifts, which could explain some of these symptoms and unhealthy coping mechanisms. Traffic jams and air and noise pollution may also negatively influence their mental health.
The evidence suggests that the key link between occupation and mental illness is high stress, which can increase the risk of PTSD, anxiety, depression, and mood and sleep disturbances. Programs should then be aggressively developed and implemented to better support various work sectors. Moreover, it would be helpful to include regular mental health examinations for prompt interventions as the workforce is highly crucial in any society.
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