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Exploring anxiety
Exploring anxiety

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5.2 Is work good or bad for your mental health? Revisiting the question

Work has clear long-term benefits for mental well-being, but can also be a cause of stress, anxiety and depression. Work-related stress, anxiety and depression accounted for 37% of work-related ill health and 45% of days lost in Great Britain in 2015-16 (HSE, 2016). Occupations and industries reporting highest rates were consistently in the health and public sectors of the economy, with reasons self-reported as primary causal factors also consistent over time – these centred around workload, lack of managerial support and organisational change (HSE, 2016). However, it is also worth noting that:

  • People with a chronic physical condition (such as a heart condition) have a 2.6 fold increase in the odds of having a mental illness.

  • Around 60-70% of people with common mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety are in work, and that

  • Up to 75% of people with diagnosable mental illness receive no treatment at all (Department of Health, 2014a and 2014b).

So once again, there is no ‘straightforward’ answer to the question posed. Work can be considered to be good for mental health, but a negative outcome (stress, anxiety and depression) may depend on a number of factors including, for example, the nature of the work (the profession, the type of work involved), organisational or management structure and stability, job security, the social environment, level of support, individual differences (in temperament and state of physical and mental health), interaction with others (psychosocial and interpersonal levels), other capabilities (e.g. time and self-management, organisation, etc.), coping strategies (work–life balance), and social and cultural attitudes and beliefs towards work. Once again, significant gaps in research remain.