If you’re regularly putting in long hours at work, you may be at higher risk for depression — especially if you’re a woman.
Given that today’s work environment allows for round-the-clock access to work, it’s no surprise that more and more people are clocking in longer hours.
However, those long hours are now being connected to mental health concerns, particularly in women.
An observational study published online in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health reports that women who worked 55 hours or more a week and/or who worked most/every weekend experienced significantly more depressive symptoms than women working standard hours.
“There’s something called ‘weisure’ that refers to people not having a work-life balance, where they work and grab moments of leisure when they can,” Deborah Serani, PsyD, professor of psychology at Adelphi University in Garden City, New York, told Healthline. “We’ve seen this since the internet and cell phones and how they really negatively impact mental health because you don’t get to reboot, you don’t get to refuel.”
Researchers gathered their data from Understanding Society, the UK Household Longitudinal Study, which has been tracking the health and well-being of 40,000 households across the UK since 2009.
Their conclusions were based on employment data from 11,215 men and 12,188 women who responded to a general health questionnaire.
There was no difference in the number of depressive symptoms between men who worked fewer or more hours than the standard working week or who worked weekends.
But weekend working was associated with significantly more depressive symptoms among men when work conditions were accounted for.
For women, depressive symptoms were associated with the number of weekends worked.
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Researchers of the study point to the potential double burden experienced by women when their long hours in paid work are added to the time they put into domestic duties.
Dr. Serani agrees that this is one explanation and says she regularly sees men and women describing the stresses of work differently.
“Women often tell me that there’s not enough time in the day and that they can’t get enough work and things at home done, and that they don’t have the spousal support they need, while men talk about how stressful their jobs are and how frustrated they are that they can’t get the work done, and how their spouses don’t understand how stressful their jobs are,” she said.
As stereotypical as it sounds, Serani said women are considered to be better multitaskers, and even if they’re working longer hours, they tend to still take on responsibilities like shopping and cleaning more often.
Jonathan Rottenberg, PhD, professor of psychology at the University of South Florida in Tampa, said in addition to home and family responsibilities, many other factors come into play, including biological reasons.
He notes that reports which state women are two to three times more likely to experience depression than men are proven across various countries within different contexts.
“This starts in adolescence, where we see boys and girls with depression not to the same degree, and it continues on through life,” Dr. Rottenberg told Healthline.
The fact that females experience depression more than males at different stages of life points to more than domestic reasons, he added.
“More research needs to be done to determine why women are more at risk biologically,” Rottenberg said.
The National Alliance on Mental Health states that in addition to work and family responsibilities, women may be more prone to depression due to hormonal fluctuations as well as psychosocial factors, such as sexual and physical abuse, sexual discrimination, lack of social support, and traumatic life experiences.
But could women also be reporting depression more than men?
Serani said yes.
“The ratio is still higher that women may experience anxiety and depression more than men, but women are more likely to report to their doctors or therapists that they’re struggling,” she said. “It’s really a stigmatizing thing for a man to talk about feeling vulnerable. I see men often who say, ‘I’m so glad Bruce Springsteen talked about depression because I never would have told anybody.’”
However, Rottenberg believes reporting differences aren’t enough to make an impact on the statistics.
“I don’t think reporting is the whole story. There are some problems that are diagnosed just as commonly in men as women, including bipolar disorder, which is not fun for anyone to report,” he said
Researches of the study hope their findings encourage employers and policymakers to implement interventions that can help reduce women’s burdens without restricting their full participation in the workforce. They also hope the findings initiate improvement in psychosocial work conditions.
Serani and Rottenberg said women can help themselves in the following five ways:
1.) Find balance
Make time for yourself and loved ones outside of work.
“Finding balance is especially hard in our contemporary economy where a lot people experience economic and job insecurity. This can be harder for women because they have higher expectations to be involved in childcare or maybe they’re more likely to have lots of friends than men are,” Rottenberg said.
Ensure you take a break from work to use your vacation time, he said.
“Many people don’t always use their vacation because they feel like they have to always have a leg up and if they don’t then they’re going to fall behind, and it can become compulsive. You have to make yourself take vacation time and completely unplug,” he said.
For times you’re not on vacation, Serani said be mindful of how you’re spending your time at home.
“If you have to work on the weekends, tell yourself that you’ll only work, say, three hours a day, and then the rest of the day is spent with your family,” she said.
2.) Ask for help
Look for ways to delegate responsibilities.
“Tell your spouse, ‘I need you to take care of the wash and make sure there’s food in the refrigerator while I’m working,’” Serani said. “And let family members know that they can help pick up the loose ends so that there is more time for everyone to spend together.”
If you can’t rely on family or friends and can afford to pay for cleaning and lawn services or meal prep, consider it.
3.) Practice self-care
Saying “no” to responsibilities and social outings can help free up time to take care of yourself.
“I like the idea of teaching young girls, teens, and women as they get older to be empowered to do whatever it is they want to do, but also factor in self-care, because nobody else can force you to do that,” Serani said.
She suggests building in time to reboot yourself, whether that’s five minutes or an hour a day to meditate, take a walk outside, go to the gym, or meal plan.
“Well-being is very connected to our senses,” Serani said. “Get revitalized by listening to music or a bird outside, or if you love the smell of flowers, take a walk by a flower shop. Make sure you touch things. If you have a pet, cuddle with it.”
4.) Get good sleep
While it may be last on your list, find time to sleep.
“It’s better to work during the day, and make sure to keep a strict sleep schedule,” Serani said. “Not giving your body enough sleep keeps you from getting time to rest, reboot, and refuel.”
5.) Get professional help
Because mental health disorders are time-related, Serani said feeling symptoms of depression, such as stress, body aches, insomnia, irritability, and hopelessness, for more than 10 days after you’ve taken time away from work may indicate a need to see a mental health professional.
“At that point, it’s most likely no longer just a stressful response to work and may signal a depressive disorder,” she said.