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A stressful job can be worse than no job at all

Consumer Reports News: March 14, 2011 06:40 PM

Unemployment obviously poses lots of emotional stress. But having a job can actually be worse--if you work in a stressful, unpleasant job environment, according to a new study in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine. 

Australian researchers looked at survey data from 7,155 working-age adults who had answered questions about their employment status and, if they had a job, their working environment and pay. Those who had jobs had better mental health than those who didn't work. But when the researchers split up the employed respondents according to their self-reported working conditions, they found that those with jobs of poor "psychosocial quality"--for example, high demands, lack of social support, low job security, inadequate pay, and little control over decisions or assignments--actually had the same or worse mental-health status compared with unemployed respondents.

What's more, their mental health showed a higher rate of decline over time than that of their unemployed peers. And while unemployed folks who found jobs generally saw improvements in their mental health, those who took on poor-quality jobs actually ended up worse off than those who stayed unemployed.

There's no question that unemployment carries a lot of stresses of its own. But these findings challenge the notion that, when it comes to mental health, any job is better than no job. If you have a really high-pressure job, or just feel that you're toiling endlessly with little support and not enough reward, it's probably all the more important to make sure you have an arsenal of coping strategies to counteract the potentially harmful effects of stress--not just on your mind, but on your body. That, too, can take work, but it's well worth it.

 --Jamie Hirsh, Senior Associate Editor

Learn about managing stress and coping with depression and anxiety. View Treatment Ratings for depression and anxiety (available to subscribers).

Jamie Hirsh

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