Researchers have been looking at the possible causes of depression for decades. While many people chalk depression up to a chemical imbalance, hoping that a pill can easily solve all their problems, the answers don’t appear to be so simple. Genetics and a possible imbalance of neurotransmitters might be two of depression’s contributing factors. Scientists, however, are curious as to how life stressors affect those experiencing depression oranxiety.

Major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder are both often described as being depressed or anxious for “no reason.” Still, it appears that external stressors can trigger episodes in people who are more susceptible to anxiety and depression. A recent study by the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health examined two different models used to describe what causes job dissatisfaction and how these situations might affect feelings of depression or anxiety.

There are two basic models used to describe job stress. One is the demand-control-support model, and the other is the effort-reward imbalance model. The demand-control-support model is based on the idea that work stress builds when demand is high but employee control and social support are low. If someone is under a lot of demands at work but has very little control over his or her own working conditions or work load, and is lacking in social support from both management and coworkers, he or she will experience an abundance of work stress.

The effort-reward imbalance model states that negative emotions and stress will arise when a person consistently puts forth a lot of effort with very little reward. If someone is working overtime or is asked to take on very demanding projects at work without adequate monetary, esteem or opportunity incentive, he or she will feel more stress.

The aforementioned study looked at the effects of poor psychological working conditions such as these and whether or not they lead to harmful health conditions such as anxiety and depression. Ninety-eight civil servants were assessed in relation to these models, their job satisfaction and levels of anxiety and depression.

They found that skill discretion, social support and skill utilization had a positive effect on feelings of anxiety and depression. According to the demand-control-support model, skill discretion is the number of skills a worker is able to use in his or her job, and it is part of employee control. The more skills a worker gets to use on the job, the more satisfied he or she will be with the job, and he or she will experience less emotional strain. Supportive coworkers and managers also appear to have a protective effect, guarding against job-related feelings of depression or anxiety.

Interestingly, exertion-related conditions such as demand, effort and over-commitment did not appear to be linked with feelings of depression or anxiety. It appears from this preliminary study that neither of these models explains a link between work conditions and incidence of depression or anxiety. Instead, any of those experiencing depression or anxiety during the study could experience their symptoms regardless of their working conditions. Someone in a rewarding, supportive work environment could experience depression or anxiety if he or she was predisposed.

Employers might still want to look at the stress created by imbalances in the demand-control-support or effort-reward working conditions they’re creating. While working conditions are not yet known to affect depression or anxiety, they are known to affect employee performance.

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