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Exploring anxiety
Exploring anxiety

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Work can be a cause for stress, anxiety and depression

A report published by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in 2016, entitled ‘Work related stress, anxiety and depression statistics in Great Britain’, provided some useful estimates of the extent of work-related illness and annual working days lost in 2015-16. The data were collected from the Labour Force Survey (a household survey across Great Britain, where participants self-reported work-related illness over the previous 12 months, and included long-standing and new cases), and the Health and Occupation Research Network for general practitioners (to assess whether new cases of mental ill health presented in surgeries across Great Britain were work-related and to confirm their cause). Key findings from the report are presented in Box 10. For the latest figures see the HSE website [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] .

Box 10 Key findings from the HSE report on ‘Work related stress, anxiety and depression statistics in Great Britain 2016’ (HSE, 2016)

  • Stress, anxiety and depression accounted for 37% of all cases of work related ill health and 45% of all working days lost due to ill health in 2015/16.

  • The estimated prevalence and incidence rates have remained broadly comparable with little change for more than a decade.

  • The total number of cases of work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2015/16 was 488,000 (prevalence rate of 1510 per 100,000 workers).

  • The number of new cases was 224,000 (incidence rate of 690 per 100,000 workers).

  • The total number of working days lost in 2015/16 due to stress, anxiety and depression was 11.7 million days (an average of 24 days lost per worker).

  • Stress was found to be more prevalent in public service industries, such as education, health and social care, public administration and defence. Healthcare workers, teaching professionals, business, media and public service professionals all showed higher levels of stress as compared to other occupational groups.

  • The main factors cited by respondents as causing work-related stress, anxiety or depression were workload pressures (including tight deadlines), excessive responsibility and a lack of managerial support.

A further breakdown of the data showing prevalence figures by industry, occupational group, gender and age is provided in Tables 3 and 4.

Table 3 Prevalence figures (mean number of cases per 100,000) for work-related stress presented by industry and occupational group (adapted from HSE, 2016)

Industries 2016

Mean number of cases per 100,000Corresponding Ratios
Public administration and defence20301:49
Human health and social work20201:50
Average for all industries12301:81
Occupational groups 2016Mean number of cases per 100,000Corresponding Ratios
Welfare professionals49901:20
Nursing and midwifery30101:33
Professional occupations19801:50
Average for all occupational groups12301:81
Table 4 Prevalence figures (mean number of cases per 100,000) for work-related stress segregated by gender and age group over a 3-year period, from 2013-14 to 2015-16 (adapted from HSE, 2016)
Means across all age groupsMean number of cases per 100,000Corresponding Ratios
Female1820 (60%)1:55
Male1190 (40%)1:84
Means across three age groupsMean number of cases per 100,000Corresponding Ratios
Females 25-34 years1790 (29%)1:56
Females 35-44 years2250 (36%)1:44
Females 45-54 years2170 (25%)1:46
 6210 (total) 
Males 25-34 years1100 (28%)1:91
Males 35-44 years1270 (32%)1:78
Males 45-54 years1590 (40%)1:63
 3960 (total) 

Occupational groups with the highest prevalence rates broadly aligned with professions found in the above industries (see Table 3). Welfare, nursing and midwifery, and teaching professions all had statistically significantly higher rates of work-related stress, anxiety and depression than the rate for all occupational groups combined (HSE, 2016) (see Table 3).

The HSE report (2016, p. 3) noted that ‘longitudinal studies and systematic reviews have indicated that stress at work is largely driven by psychosocial factors and is associated with common conditions such as heart disease and anxiety and depression and may play a role in some forms of musculoskeletal disorders’. According to the Labour Force Survey, the predominant causes of work-related stress were workload, in particular tight deadlines, too much work or excessive pressure or responsibility. Other identified factors included lack of managerial support, organisational changes at work, role uncertainty (lack of clarity about job, uncertain about expectations), job insecurity and low personal ‘control’. The general practitioners network concluded that workload pressures were the predominant factor for mental ill health, with interpersonal relationships and changes at work representing significant factors (HSE, 2016).

The report concluded that ‘work-related stress, depression and anxiety accounted for 37% of work-related ill health and 45% of days lost in 2015-16’. Occupations and industries reporting the highest rates were consistently in the health and public sectors of the economy. Reasons cited as primary causal factors were also consistent over time, and centred around workload, lack of managerial support and organisational change.

  • Looking at the data presented in Table 4, what can you infer about gender, age and work-related stress?

  • Between 2013-14 and 2015-16, the mean prevalence rates for females was 1.5 times higher than for males in Great Britain (1820 compared to 1190 per 100,000). The prevalence rates also differed according to age groups between males and females: the prevalence rate was higher for 35-44 year old females compared with 25-34 or 45-54 year old females; in contrast, the prevalence rate was higher for 45-54 year old males compared with 25-34 or 35-44 year old males.

The HSE report considered that ‘higher rates reported by females is likely a product of the proportion of females in the public services and vocational occupations such as teaching and nursing and cultural differences in attitudes and beliefs between males and females around the subject of stress’ (HSE, 2016, p. 6).

Reflect on your learning in this section.

    • What were the key issues or concepts that stood out for you?

    • Were you able to answer either of the questions posed in this section?

    • Are women more likely to suffer from an anxiety disorder than men?

    • Is work good or bad for your mental health?

We will pick these questions up again briefly in Section 5 before considering interventions for anxiety.