Psychology Melbourne Blog

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Depressing news for Australian workers ... and bosses

Edited by Jill Wright,

One would have to say that the timing might have been a little better. First came the news, on Monday, that a survey by the Australian Psychological Association had found a disturbing level of stress, anxiety and depression in the national workforce.

The APS psychologists interviewed 1548 workers for their Stress and Well-being in Australia report and discovered less satisfaction at work. Almost three-quarters of the respondents reported their physical health had been affected by ongoing stress, with 17 per cent. describing the impact as severe to very severe.

One in seven workers reported severe to extremely severe symptoms of depression.

Significantly, the situation had deteriorated compared to similar surveys last year and in 2011, particularly for younger workers.

One might forgive the nation's work force for feeling slightly more depressed on Tuesday, when Sane Australia released a similar survey reporting that almost half of Australian workers had taken time off because of depression.

Concerned employers might also have felt a little gloomy. Both reports indicated many workers felt compelled to conceal their condition from their bosses. The Sane Australia report put that figure at 41 per cent - which was significantly higher than indicated by a survey of European workers (25 per cent).

And the APS found that when it came to providing help for mental issues in the workplace, too many employers were missing in action, failing to provide services like the employee assistance programs offered by Psychology Melbourne.

Sane Australia reported that Australians seemed to be more aware of the symptoms of depression than their European counterparts, and the fact that they tended to take fewer days off as a result of the condition (15 vs. 36 for Europe), might indicate more effective treatments here, or possibly reflect the fact that Australians were more team-oriented and reluctant to let their co-workers down. That, at least, ought to encourage employers.

Both organisations called for remedial steps. The APS said that collective action was necessary and suggested employees might like to reach out to psychologists for help.

Sane Australia organised a meeting in Sydney of 35 researchers, government agencies, business and not-for-profit groups today to devise new ways of tackling depression in the workplace. Recommendations are not yet available.

The organisation's CEO, Jack Heath, reported that helpers at the meeting were encouraged by the fact that some big employers attended.

The APS survey went into greater detail, discovering for instance that financial worries were the most significant contributor to stress, followed by health and family worries. But 47 per cent reported issues at work. 

And researchers picked up distinct differences between the amount of support offered by employers for physical problems and that given for mental health issues. Only half the employers involved provided mental health support.

Significantly, women reported more satisfaction and more support at work than men.

The APS survey also looked at how people dealt with stress. By far the majority chose distraction - chiefly TV, followed by spending time with friends and family. Other "strategies" included sleeping and eating more.

The APS recently launched a healthy workplace program.

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About the editor, Jill Wright

Jill Wright (MAPS, AAFT, AICD) is the Director and Principal Psychologist at Psychology Melbourne. Jill was twice elected General Director of the Australian Psychological Society and established the Study Group Network. Find out more about Jill Wright.