Saturday, October 13, 2007

Depression on the Job

In light of yesterday's extended post on depression, it is worth noting that the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has just released a report that ranks jobs on the basis of the percentage of employees who get depressed with their work. The key results have been summarized in an Associated Press dispatch by Kevin Freking:

People who tend to the elderly, change diapers and serve up food and drinks have the highest rates of depression among U.S. workers.

Overall, 7 percent of full-time workers battled depression in the past year, according to a government report available Saturday.

Women were more likely than men to have had a major bout of depression, and younger workers had higher rates of depression than their older colleagues.

Almost 11 percent of personal care workers _ which includes child care and helping the elderly and severely disabled with their daily needs _ reported depression lasting two weeks or longer.

During such episodes there is loss of interest and pleasure, and at least four other symptoms surface, including problems with sleep, eating, energy, concentration and self-image.

Workers who prepare and serve food _ cooks, bartenders, waiters and waitresses _ had the second highest rate of depression among full-time employees at 10.3 percent.

In a tie for third were health care workers and social workers at 9.6 percent.

The lowest rate of depression, 4.3 percent, occurred in the job category that covers engineers, architects and surveyors.

There may an interesting correlation lurking in these data, which is that there is a correlation between the probability of depression at work and the extent to which work is conducted in the social world (as opposed to the subjective or objective worlds). Is this a sign that empathy may be an "occupational hazard;" or is it a consequence of the likelihood that one may have to empathize with a client who is, as a result of prevailing conditions, already depressive? In the Mencken tradition any simple answer to a question like this is bound to be wrong; but just raising the question supports the premise that we need to recognize that there pathological aspects to work today, which are in dire need of serious analysis. There are truths lurking here that, as Herbert Agar put it, "men prefer not to hear;" but, like Oedipus, we must pursue those truths, even if they ultimately lead to unpleasant truths about ourselves. After all Oedipus was eventually redeemed at Colonus and died a quiet and peaceful death there. Given the extent to which our very environment (both physical and social) is exacting revenge for the damage we have done to it, the rest of us should be as fortunate as Oedipus!

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