When Your Job Hurts Your Mental Health

Last week I wrote about why you should consider leaving your work at work. This week brings us a study about times when you might want to think about leaving your work, period.

In a systematic meta-review of previous studies looking at the relationship between work and mental health, researchers narrowed in on specific kinds of jobs that seem to be especially harmful for mental health.

In particular, they found three broad characteristics of jobs that are associated with increased risk for anxiety and depression:

  • A lack of balance
  • High uncertainty
  • Low value and respect in the workplace

Within these three categories, the researchers linked a number of more specific job traits to anxiety and depression:

  • Being under high job demands
  • Having low job control
  • Putting in more effort for less reward
  • Experiencing injustice in terms of how you’re treated or what you have to do
  • Being in a stressful role
  • Being bullied
  • Having little social support

In the course of the review, the researchers found multiple studies linking each factor to anxiety or depression. While untangling cause-and-effect wasn’t part of the study, it’s not a big jump to entertain the possibility that these factors could be directly harmful to mental health.

After all, previous research has suggested that work satisfaction can have a big effect on overall life satisfaction. For example, a 2012 study found a correlation between work burnout and work engagement on one hand and life satisfaction on the other.

The nice thing about the most recent meta-review, though, is that it identifies specific aspects of jobs that seem to be especially bad for mental health. It pools together multiple studies to find job characteristics consistently linked to anxiety and depression. Looking at these factors, then, can give a more precise view of why your work may especially stressful or rewarding.

Image: Flickr/allispossible.org.uk


  1. Workplace Bullying Advocate on January 25, 2017 at 11:35 am

    Thank you for this article. As a survivor of workplace bullying, currently experiencing major PTSD, depression and anxiety as a result, my 30 year career working for corporations is now over. I am suing my ex employer, and had my choice of lawyers until I told them I applied for SSDI. Regardless, I’m carrying on pro se. To read more about what I and too many others have gone through, check out http://www.discriminationatthevangardgroup.com because no one should ever go through what we went through at our jobs. Are there any clinical studies in the US studying the effects of workplace bullying? I would like to participate.

  2. Oceanya on February 1, 2018 at 8:00 am

    Great article. I’m a hardcore introvert with lots of shyness and a general lack of ‘people skills’. I work at a job with high people skills and demands. I chose this job when the crisis begun in my country and this job was one of the few that were still on the rise. You see, at my 18 years I could not possibly think very clearly or predict the future or even know 100% of what a certain profession is all about. So I sort of chose it out of fear. Now it’s my second year of working at this job and I have to say that I hate it. Not only does it have a lot of people demands, not only does it include the interaction with lots of kids (I like kids but I don’t have what it takes to spend a lot of time with them or care for them, I get tired very easily), but my job also includes a control freak kind of boss. She even gives me directions on how to have my room’s door when I’m alone or how to place my freaking chair in the room or when and how much I should turn on or off the heater. On top of all, new clients keep coming which means that my schedule is constantly getting more tiring and demanding and by now, I’m already burnt out, exhausted and on the limit of a nervous breakdown.

    I go home every night feeling like I’ve been digging on a field all day, just because I’m psychologically exhausted. My mental health is in a very doubtful place right now and I’ve already decided to quit from my job in nearly 2 months from now. Money is important but our health is even more important. I’d rather earn much less and be carefree or at least adequately happy, than earning more and being like this. This job is not only bad for me, it’s completely opposite of my abilities and my nature, I simply can’t take it anymore.

    • Neil Petersen on February 1, 2018 at 3:00 pm

      Hi Oceanya, thanks for sharing your story! That does sound like a bad mixture, and a draining environment to work in. Congrats on the decision to quit — I think you’re definitely doing the right thing. Like you say, money isn’t very useful without your mental health! And, in fact, you may be interested to know that people tend to make more money in the long-run when they have a job that fits their personality — see this post from a few months ago. Best of luck!