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Shift workers up to 22% more likely to suffer depression, says study

Why that 9-5 isn’t so bad for your mental health after all: People who do shift work up to 22% more likely to suffer depression and anxiety, study suggests

  • Study tracked more than 175,000 British workers including shift workers
  • Participants on shift work were also 16% more likely to be told they had anxiety
  • READ MORE: Night shift workers less alert and have worse memory says study 

People who work rotating shift patterns outside the typical 9 to 5 window are more likely to be depressed, researchers say.

A study tracking more than 175,000 British adults found that shift workers — such as nurses, security guards and police officers — were 22 percent more likely to be diagnosed with the condition than those on a standard day schedule.

They were also 16 percent more likely to have anxiety.

The scientists did not find that self-employed people were more likely to be depressed, however, as well as those routinely working night shifts — in contrast to many previous studies.

Researchers suggested this was because night shift worker’s had adjusted to the altered lifestyle, meaning they were no longer slammed with the severe fatigue driving the mental health problems for others.

A study tracking more than 175,000 British adults found that shift workers — such as nurses, security guards, police officers and journalists — were 22 percent more likely to be diagnosed with the condition than their day-working counterparts (Stock image)

More than 15million Americans — or about one in five working adults — do shift work, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Researchers have known for years that this is linked to damage to physical health — including raising the risk of heart disease, diabetes and dementia.

Night shift workers have worse memory and are less alert 

Switching from night to day shifts has long be linked to a plethora of serious health issues such as sleep disorders, heart disease, obesity and mood problems. 

For the study, researchers from the Huazhong University in Wuhan, China, extracted figures from the UK Biobank — a database containing in-depth genetic and health information on more than 500,000 Britons.

Data on 175,000 employed or self-employed workers was used, including nearly 28,000 shift workers — or 16 percent of the total.

These individuals were in their late 40s to early 50s on average and were first recruited to the Biobank between 2006 and 2010.

They had been in their jobs for about 12 years on average and worked about 34 to 38 hours per week. 

Each was tracked for about nine years and asked to report whether they were diagnosed with depression or anxiety.

The study defined shift work as jobs requiring people to work outside the typical 9am to 5pm window, such as those undertaking shifts beginning in the afternoons, evenings, nights or whose shifts are on rotation.

During the study period, there were 3,956 new cases of depression — 2.3 percent of the total — and 2,838 new cases of anxiety — or 1.7 percent.

Dr Minzhi Xu, a health expert at Huazhong University in Wuhan, China, and others wrote in the paper that poor mental health among shift workers was partly explained by fatigue and lifestyle factors.

They pointed to a higher likelihood of being a smoker and having poor sleep and being overweight or obese among shift workers as causes of mental health problems.

Some studies have linked smoking to depression, with theories suggesting it may be because of the nicotine dependence. Mental health problems can be triggered during a low, when someone hasn’t had a cigarette for a protracted period, or during the battle to quit smoking.

Poor sleep is also linked to low mood because it disrupts emotional regulation and leads to higher stress levels in the body.

A higher BMI can also indicate mental health problems, because people with this may be more sedentary or have an unhealthy diet — which can lead to issues. It could also indicate an emotional issue driving overeating.

The researchers also noted that shift workers were more likely to have lower incomes and live in a poor environment, which also raises the risk of mental health issues.

The study also found, however, that night shift work was no more significantly linked to depression than day shift work.

The scientists suggested this was because over time someone had adapted to the differing schedule, leading to reductions in fatigue and a recovery of mental health.

The results differed from other studies, but scientists said this may be because they defined night shifts as working between 12am and 6am. For comparison, papers from the Netherlands have defined a night shift as one beginning after 10pm.

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