Feel like your workplace is especially depressing? Scientists found out why

A stressful job can lead to serious mental health consequences.

Some 14% of common mental illnesses could be prevented by reducing job strain, a study published Tuesday in the journal Lancet Psychiatry found. The study, conducted by Australian mental health nonprofit the Black Dog Institute, analyzed the ways work conditions may affect mental health among 6,870 employees. It found that people experiencing job strain at age 45 were at an increased risk of developing mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety by age 50.

“These findings serve as a wake-up call for the role workplace initiatives should play in our efforts to curb the rising costs of mental disorders,” University of New South Wales associate professor and lead author on the report, Samuel Harvey, said.

To determine “job strain,” researchers looked at employees’ decision authority (the ability to make decisions about work), skill discretion (the opportunity to use skills during work), and asked questions about job pace, intensity and conflicting demands. More strain meant higher rates of mental illness regardless of gender, occupation, or class.

“It’s important to remember that for most people, being in work is a good thing for their mental health,” Harvey said. “But this research provides strong evidence that organizations can improve employee well-being by modifying their workplaces to make them more mentally healthy.”

Depression costs the U.S. economy more than $51 billion a year in absenteeism from work and $26 billion in direct treatment costs. The number of missed work days varies depending on mental illness: People with depression lose the equivalent of 27 work days per year, according to Harvard University researchers — nine of them because of sick days or other time taken out of work, and another 18 reflecting lost productivity.

Employers are increasingly allowing employees to treat mental health days like normal sick days, and it pays off: For every $1 spent on mental health training, companies see a return of investment of almost $10, according to a previous study from the Black Dog Institute, which researches mental health in the workplace and provides training for employers.

Some companies even offer free meditation and yoga classes. Consumer goods company Unilever UL, -0.31%  for example, provides training for senior employees to recognize potential mental health problems and offers employee workshops on sleep, mindfulness and exercise.

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