10 Careers With High Rates of Depression

Last Updated Jun 20, 2011 4:30 PM EDT

10 Careers With High Risk of DepressionAre some jobs more stressful than others? Absolutely. Are workers generally less happy in certain fields? Probably. Are some careers more prone to depression than others? That, I don't know, but Health.com certainly seems to think so.

The site, which is owned by Time Inc., a division of Time Warner, named 10 fields where workers reported the highest rates of depression. The list got picked up by pretty much every news outlet, from Forbes and Huffington Post to Yahoo and Psychology Today.

Here's the rub. Not a single publication thought to ask what I think are some pretty important questions: 1) is this from a reputable scientific study, and 2) do the careers cause depression or do people at risk for depression choose these careers?

Look, some jobs are clearly more stressful than others, but linking careers to depression and the causality of that link are far more complex than the article - and all those that picked it up - seem to indicate.

We'll get to the list in a minute, but instead of just taking something this important at face value, here are some things to consider about job stress, anxiety, and depression:

  • Depression's a subjective term that means different things to different people, from feeling sad and down to feeling downright miserable and hopeless. And clinical depression is a whole different story. So, if this was based on a poll question, it leaves an awful lot of room for interpretation.
  • The actual source of stress and anxiety isn't always crystal clear or well-defined. People often freak out over all kinds of stuff instead of dealing with some big, hairy issue they may not even be consciously aware of. We all bring our baggage to work with us - some more than others - that's for sure.
  • I'm not at all clear on the cause and effect, here. I can make a pretty good argument for people with personal issues that result in stress, anxiety, or depression gravitating toward certain careers. At the very least, there's a relatively complex interrelationship between our feelings and our relationships, our families, and yes, our jobs.
  • Health.com provided no source for the data, so we really don't know where it came from, but they did say these are the top 10 fields for workers reporting incidents of depression out of "21 major job categories." I'm not sure how comprehensive that is since there are probably hundreds if not thousands of job or career fields.
In any case, here are the 10 careers:
  1. Nursing home / child-care workers
  2. Food service staff
  3. Social workers
  4. Health-care workers
  5. Artists, entertainers, writers
  6. Teachers
  7. Administrative support staff
  8. Maintenance and grounds workers
  9. Financial advisors and accountants
  10. Salespeople
Sure, I can come up with aspects of each job that would likely contribute to stress and anxiety, and there are some common threads such as low or variable pay, little recognition, never-ending workload, time pressure, working with the sick and downtrodden, etc.

Back in the day, you'd just say you had a crappy or thankless job and be done with it. Frankly, I find that description far more indicative of what's really going on than what's probably a relatively unscientific attempt at linking specific careers to something as subjective as worker-reported episodes of depression.

And yes, I did email the editor for clarification on the source, but haven't heard back yet. Will let you know if that changes. In any cases, the site got its 12K Facebook rec's and who knows how many clicks, so, mission accomplished.

Update (6/16/11, 11:50 am PST): Thanks to reader staplda, the data came from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. As I suspected, the data wasn't intended to show a correlatation between jobs and depression, just two completely separate questions - 1) have you had instances of depression and 2) what's your job - as part of a much larger questionaire primarily focused on drug and alcohol use. Linking the two is, in my opinion, highly nonscientific and unsubstantiated.
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