Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa

Work stress precipitates depression and anxiety in young, working women and men

  • MARIA MELCHIOR (a1) (a2) (a3), AVSHALOM CASPI (a1) (a2), BARRY J. MILNE (a1), ANDREA DANESE (a1), RICHIE POULTON (a4) and TERRIE E. MOFFITT (a1) (a2)...

Rates of depression have been rising, as have rates of work stress. We tested the influence of work stress on diagnosed depression and anxiety in young working adults.


Participants were enrolled in the Dunedin study, a 1972–1973 longitudinal birth cohort assessed most recently in 2004–2005, at age 32 (n=972, 96% of 1015 cohort members still alive). Work stress (psychological job demands, work decision latitude, low work social support, physical work demands) was ascertained by interview. Major depressive disorder (MDD) and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) were ascertained using the Diagnostic Interview Schedule (DIS) and diagnosed according to DSM-IV criteria.


Participants exposed to high psychological job demands (excessive workload, extreme time pressures) had a twofold risk of MDD or GAD compared to those with low job demands. Relative risks (RRs) adjusting for all work characteristics were: 1·90 [95% confidence interval (CI) 1·22–2·98] in women, and 2·00 (95% CI 1·13–3·56) in men. Analyses ruled out the possibility that the association between work stress and disorder resulted from study members' socio-economic position, a personality tendency to report negatively, or a history of psychiatric disorder prior to labour-market entry. Prospective longitudinal analyses showed that high-demand jobs were associated with the onset of new depression and anxiety disorder in individuals without any pre-job history of diagnosis or treatment for either disorder.


Work stress appears to precipitate diagnosable depression and anxiety in previously healthy young workers. Helping workers cope with work stress or reducing work stress levels could prevent the occurrence of clinically significant depression and anxiety.

Corresponding author
*Address for correspondence: Professor Terrie Moffitt, Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry Centre, Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, De Crespigny Park, London SE5 8AF, UK. (Email:
Linked references
Hide All

This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

R. Avitsur , J. L. Stark & J. F. Sheridan (2001). Social stress induces glucocorticoid resistance in subordinate animals. Hormones and Behavior 39, 247257.

A. J. Barros & V. N. Hirakata (2003). Alternatives for logistic regression in cross-sectional studies: an empirical comparison of models that directly estimate the prevalence ratio. BMC Medical Research Methodology 3, 113.

R. F. Belli , W. L. Shay & F. P. Stafford (2001). Event history calendars and question list surveys: a direct comparison of interviewing methods. Public Opinion Quarterly 65, 4574.

E. J. Bromet , M. A. Dew , D. K. Parkinson , S. Cohen & J. E. Schwartz (1992). Effects of occupational stress on the physical and psychological health of women in a microelectronics plant. Social Science and Medicine 34, 13771383.

A. Caspi , T. E. Moffitt , A. Thorton , D. Freedman , J. W. Amell , H. L. Harrington , J. Smeijers & P. A. Silva (1996). The Life History Calendar: a research and clinical assessment method for collecting retrospective event-history data. International Journal of Methods in Psychiatric Research 6, 101114.

M. Cropley , A. Steptoe & K. Joekes (1999). Job strain and psychiatric morbidity. Psychological Medicine 29, 14111416.

J. Hanley (2001). A heuristic approach to the formulas for population attributable fraction. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health 55, 508514.

R. C. Kessler , P. Berglund , O. Demler , R. Jin , K. R. Merikangas & E. E. Walters (2005). Lifetime prevalence and age-of-onset distributions of DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Archives of General Psychiatry 62, 593602.

R. C. Kessler , K. A. McGonagle , C. B. Nelson , M. Hughes , M. Swartz & D. G. Blazer (1994). Sex and depression in the National Comorbidity Survey. II. Cohort effects. Journal of Affective Disorders 30, 1526.

R. F. Krueger , A. Caspi , T. E. Moffitt & P. A. Silva (1998). The structure and stability of common mental disorders (DSM III-R): a longitudinal-epidemiological study. Journal of Abnormal Psychology 107, 216227.

B. Melin , U. Lundberg , J. Soderlund & M. Granqvist (1999). Psychological and physiological stress reactions of male and female assembly workers: a comparison between two different forms of work organization. Journal of Organizational Behavior 20, 4761.

T. E. Moffitt , A. Caspi , M. Rutter & P. A. Silva (2001). Sex Differences in Antisocial Behaviour: Conduct Disorder, Delinquency, and Violence in the Dunedin Longitudinal Study. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, UK.

I. Niedhammer , M. Goldberg , A. Leclerc , I. Bugel & S. David (1998). Psychosocial factors at work and subsequent depressive symptoms in the Gazel cohort. Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment and Health 24, 197205.

C. Tennant (2001). Work-related stress and depressive disorders. Journal of Psychosomatic Research 51, 697704.

J. M. Twenge (2000). The age of anxiety? Birth cohort changes in anxiety and neuroticism, 1952–1993. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 79, 10071021.

P. S. Wang , A. L. Beck , P. Berglund , D. K. McKenas , N. P. Pronk , G. E. Simon & R. C. Kessler (2004). Effects of major depression on moment-in-time work performance. American Journal of Psychiatry 161, 18851891.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Psychological Medicine
  • ISSN: 0033-2917
  • EISSN: 1469-8978
  • URL: /core/journals/psychological-medicine
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 81
Total number of PDF views: 352 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 2996 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 24th September 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.