Toxic workplaces quadruple the likelihood of depression

Everybody hates Mondays, but imagine if every day at work made you feel the same as you do when you stumble into the office after the weekend. For some people, their workplace atmosphere leaves them in an eternal Monday

A recent study published in the British Medical Journal showed that in a toxic workplace, employees are 300% more likely to experience major depressive symptoms. 

The study, conducted by researchers from the University of South Australia, began by noting that “[m]ajor depression affects an estimated 300 million people across the world and has become a pervasive global burden across cultures. Major depression has a high risk of recurrence and leads to functional impairment, elevated morbidity and mortality, and destructive social and economic consequences.”

The study followed over 1,000 people in Australia. Originally, the sample size was almost 4,000 people, but many were removed for being self-employed, temporary workers, or for already showing symptoms of depression. 

Researchers followed the narrowed-down group for a year to see how their mental health was impacted by the toxicity of their workplaces. They defined toxicity by how committed management was to employees’ mental health, how well the company communicated to its employees about mental health issues and how to treat them, and how actively companies encouraged co-workers to be nice to each other and look out for each others’ mental health.

They found that a toxic work environment was associated with a 300% percent increase in major depressive symptoms. That means that in jobs where there is a lack of consideration, concern, knowledge, and community around mental health issues, the employees are four times more likely to not only become sad but to develop significant, even life-threatening, depressive symptoms.

Looking out for co-workers

An important factor in the study was whether or not co-workers were looking out for each other’s mental health. A Ladders article written by John Casey, author and global head of digital consulting agency Publicis.Sapient, had a list of behaviors to look out for:

  1. Work output slipping
  2. Voice change, or the lack of expression in spoken words
  3. Gradual, unexplained weight loss
  4. Empty eyes and dark circles that look lifeless
  5. Sudden lack of participation in pizza parties, office outings

But you also have to make sure that you are taking care of yourself too. Before you even start a job, check if the workplace seems toxic by asking questions about the company’s values or team dynamic and seeing how the interviewer reacts. You can also try to get a feel for how the employees interact with one and other.

What to do if you work in a toxic environment

If you’re already stuck in a toxic workplace, you can take certain steps.

Wake up early: A May 2021 Harvard study found that starting your day even just an hour earlier than you currently do will decrease your chances of major depressive symptoms by 23%. Starting the day earlier will get your brain activated in time for work and give you some time to yourself. You could shower, read, or sit and enjoy a cup of coffee.

Avoid working long hours: If you cut down on overtime by working as efficiently as possible during normal hours, you can also cut down your chances of depression. A Ladders article reported that among people who work late, “66% spent less time spent with family, 61% spent less time spent with a spouse, 53% spent less leisure time at home.” It is so important for a person’s mental health to be surrounded by love and support. The more time you spend with the people closest to you, the more your mood can improve. 

Educate yourself about mental health and your workplace benefits: There are so many resources online that can help you with depression or combat it before it begins, including the National Alliance on Mental Illness (1-800-950-6264), Anxiety and Depression Association of America (1-240-485-1001), and National Institute of Mental Health (1-866-615-6464).

And even if your workplace doesn’t seem to value mental health issues, there may be help there, regardless. This could even include insurance benefits that cover therapy.

If all else fails, maybe it’s time to work somewhere new. No one should have to suffer because of their workplace’s toxic atmosphere.