The one factor causing depression and anxiety in the workplace | Johann Hari | Big Think (2023)


The one factor causing depression and anxiety in the workplace
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Expressions like "feeling down" or "feeling low" are more literal than we think, says Lost Connections author Johann Hari. A 30-year field study of wild African baboons by the incredible Stanford University professor Robert Sapolsky has shown that there is a remarkable relationship between depression, anxiety, and social hierarchies. Male baboons—who live in a very strict pecking order—suffer the most psychological stress when their social status is insecure, or when they are on the bottom rung, looking up at the luxuries of others. Does it sound familiar yet? "If you live in the United States... we’re at the greatest levels of inequality since the 1920s," says Hari. "There’s a few people at the very top, there’s a kind of precarious middle, and there’s a huge and swelling bottom." It's no coincidence that mental health gets poorer as the wealth gap continues to widen: depression and anxiety are socioeconomic diseases. The silver lining is that this relationship has been discovered. Could an economic revolution end the depression epidemic? And, most curiously, what can we learn from the Amish on this front? Johann Hari is the author of Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions.
Johann Hari is the New York Times bestselling author of Chasing the Scream, which is being adapted into a feature film. He was twice named Newspaper Journalist of the Year by Amnesty International UK. He has written for many of the world’s leading newspapers and magazines, including the New York Times, Le Monde, the Guardian, the Los Angeles Times, the New Republic, the Nation, Slate, El Mundo, and the Sydney Morning Herald. He was a lead op-ed columnist for the Independent, one of Britain’s leading newspapers, for nine years. He is a regular panelist on HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher. His TED talk, “Everything You Think You Know About Addiction Is Wrong,” has more than 20 million views.
Johann Hari: When I feel depressed, like loads of people I say, “I feel down,” right?
And as I was learning about the causes of depression and anxiety for my book 'Lost Connections' I started to realize—I don’t think that’s a metaphor. There’s this amazing professor at Stanford called Robert Sapolsky who, in his early twenties, went to live with a troop of baboons in Kenya. And it was his job to figure out: when are baboons most stressed out?
So his job was to hit them with little tranquilizer darts and then take a blood test and measure something called cortisol, which is a hormone that baboons and us release when we’re stressed. And baboons live in this hierarchy—so the females don’t, interestingly—but the men live in a very strict hierarchy. So if there’s 30 men, number one knows he’s above number two. Number two knows he’s above number three. Number 12 knows he’s above number 13. And that really determines a lot; it determines who you get to have sex with, it determines what you get to eat, it determines whether you get to sit in the shade or you’re pushed out into the heat. So really it's significant where you are in the hierarchy.
And what Professor Sapolsky found is that baboons are most stressed in two situations. One is when their status is insecure. So if you’re the top guy and someone’s circling which comes for you, you will be massively stressed.
And the other situation is when you feel you’re at the bottom of the hierarchy, you’ve been kind of humiliated. And what Professor Sapolsky noticed—and then it was later developed by other scientists—is, when you feel you’ve been pushed to the bottom, what you do is you show something called a submission gesture.
So you, baboons will raise— I say “you,” I assume no baboons are watching this, maybe they are—a baboon will put its body down physically or put it’s head down or put its bottom in the air and it will cover its head. So it’s clearly seems to be communicating: “Just leave me alone. You’ve beaten me, okay? You’ve beaten me.”
And what lots of scientists, like Professor Paul Gilbert in Britain and Professor Kate Pickett and Professor Richard Wilkinson, also in Britain, have really developed is this idea that actually what human depression is, in part—not entirely, but in part—is a form of a submission gesture. It’s a way of saying, “I can’t cope with this anymore,” right. Particularly people who feel th...
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I learned about nine causes of depression anxiety for which there's scientific evidence, which opens up all different solutions.

So I'll just give you a quick example of one I.

Notice, the lots of people I know who are depressed and anxious that depression and anxiety focuses around their work.

So I start looking at well.

How do people feel about their work what's going on here? Gallup did the most detailed study that's ever been done on this.

What they found is 13% of us liked our work.

Most of the time 63% of us are what they called sleepwalking through our work.

We don't like it.

We don't hate it.

We tolerate it 24% of us hate our jobs.

Do you think about that 87% of people in our culture don't like the thing they're doing most of the time they did send their first work email at 7:48 a.m.

and clock off at 7:15 p.m.

on average.

Most of us don't want to be doing it.

Could this have a relationship to our mental health I started looking for the best evidence on its own I discovered an amazing Australian, social scientist called Michael Marmot, who I got to know who discovered in the story of how I discovered it's amazing, but I'll give you the headline.

He discovered the key factor that makes us depressed and anxious at work.

If you go to work and you feel controlled, you feel you have few or limited choices.

You are significantly more likely to become depressed or actually even more likely to have a stress-related heart attack.

And this is because of one of the things that connects so many of the causes of depression and anxiety I learned about everyone watching this knows that you have natural physical needs, right? You need food.

You need water.

You need shelter.

You need clear.

Now if I took them away from you, you would be in trouble, real fast, right, there's, equally, strong, evidence that we have natural psychological needs.

You've got to feel you belong.

You've got to feel your life has meaning and purpose.

You've got to feel that people see you and value you.

You've got to feel, you've got a future that makes sense.

And if human beings are deprived of those psychological needs, they will experience extreme forms of distress.

Our culture is good at lots of things we're, getting less and less good at meeting people's deep underlying psychological needs.

And this is one of the key factors where depression is rising.

And that opens just to finish the point about work that opens up a very different way of thinking about how we solve these problems right.

So if control at work is driving is one of the drivers of this depression anxiety a bit.

So I think, well, what would be an antidepressant for that? Right? What would solve that in Baltimore I met a woman called Meredith Keough is part of an amazing transformation.

Meredith used to go to bed every Sunday night just sick with anxiety.

She had an office job.

It wasn't, the worst office job in the world.

She wasn't think bully, but, but she couldn't bear, the thought that this monotony was going to be the next 40 years of her life, most of her life.

And one day Meredith did an experiment with her husband Josh Josh had worked in bike stores since he was a teenager again, it's insecure controlled workers.

You can imagine and one day Josh and his friends in the bike store, just ask themselves.

What what does a boss actually do they liked their boss? He wasn't, particularly bad guy, but they thought, well, we fix all the bikes.

They didn't like this feeling of having a boss they decided to do something different so Meredith quit.

Her job Josh and his friends quit their jobs.

They set up a bike store that works on a different.

Older principle, it's a democratic cooperative, not a corporation.

So the way it works is there is no boss.

They take the decisions together democratically by voting.

They share out the good tasks and the bad tasks.

They share the profits and one of the things that was so interesting to me going there, which is completely in line with Professor marmots findings is how many of them talked about how depressed and anxious they've been when they worked in a controlled environment, and they weren't depressed and anxious.

Now now it's important to say, it's, not like they quit their jobs fixing bikes and went to become like Beyonce's backing, singers, right? They fix bikes before they fix bikes now.

But they dealt with the factor that causes depression and anxiety as Josh, put it to me there's.

No reason why any business should be run in this, top-down depressogenic, humiliating way, right.

The modern corporation is a very recent invention.

Think about how many people you know who feel terrible today who if they were going into work tomorrow to a workplace that they controlled with their colleagues.

What if there had to be a boss, they elected the boss and the boss was accountable to them where they chose the priorities for their workplace.

A lot of people would feel very differently.

Now that is an antidepressant right? Chemical.

Antidepressant should absolutely remain on the menu.

They give some relief to some people that's valuable.

But we need to look for antidepressants that deal with the reasons why we're depressed so I was able to identify nine causes of depression anxiety and seven antidepressants like this, which are actually about dealing with the reasons why we feel this way and not just blunting the symptoms.


What causes depression and anxiety in the workplace? ›

While not an exhaustive list, the following situations may contribute to work depression: feeling like you have no control over work issues. feeling like your job is in jeopardy. working in a toxic work environment.

What factors contribute to depression in the workplace? ›

What causes depression in the workplace?
  • Toxic work environment.
  • Being overworked.
  • Working irregular hours.
  • Unsafe working conditions.
  • Being underpaid.
  • Lack of clarity in your role.
  • Micromanagement.
  • Poor or unsafe working conditions.

What causes workplace anxiety? ›

Some of the many causes of work-related stress include long hours, heavy workload, job insecurity and conflicts with co-workers or bosses. Symptoms include a drop in work performance, depression, anxiety and sleeping difficulties.

How does anxiety and depression influence productivity in the workplace? ›

When your staff is stressed or anxious, they're likely not as focused on their work. Few people function well when experiencing anxiety, and productivity often drops dramatically, affecting the company's bottom line.

What causes mental illness in the workplace? ›

Understand the risk factors to mental health
  • poor communication and management practices.
  • lack of support for staff.
  • inflexible working hours.
  • unclear tasks or organisational objectives.
  • limited autonomy or decision-making power.
  • unclear job roles or organisational objectives.

What is the impact of anxiety on the workplace? ›

Having anxiety at work can have a huge impact on you and your career. People who feel anxious at work might even make career decisions based on their anxiety. For example, you might feel like you have to turn down a promotion if it involves more managing, public speaking, or traveling to new places.

What are the 3 factors that lead to a depression? ›

What Are the Main Causes of Depression?
  • Abuse. Physical, sexual, or emotional abuse can make you more vulnerable to depression later in life.
  • Age. People who are elderly are at higher risk of depression. ...
  • Certain medications. ...
  • Conflict. ...
  • Death or a loss. ...
  • Gender. ...
  • Genes. ...
  • Major events.
Apr 25, 2023

What are some factors that add to workplace stress? ›

Top 10 causes of stress at work
  • Excessive workload. According to CIPD, workload is the most common cause of work-related stress. ...
  • Lack of control. ...
  • Lack of support. ...
  • Senior staff. ...
  • Peers. ...
  • Other factors. ...
  • Job security. ...
  • Insufficient training.

What is workplace stress and anxiety? ›

Work-related stress (WRS) is the conditions, practices and events at work which may give rise to stress. Work-related stress is caused or made worse by work. There are positive and negative types of stress. Positive stress gives a sense of challenge and excitement. Negative stress causes worry, anxiety and agitation.

How does stress and anxiety affect work performance? ›

Unfortunately, when job stress comes into play, employees find it difficult to concentrate, meet deadlines, and utilize their creativity. More significantly, stress can trigger other mental health concerns that impact job productivity— including burnout, anxiety, depression, and conflict.

What does depression in the workplace look like? ›

Some of the more common signs of work depression include: withdrawal or isolation from other people. poor self-hygiene or significant change in appearance. late arrival at work, missed meetings, or absent days.

How can depression affect a person's performance in the workplace? ›

It contributes to presenteeism, or employees at work but not engaged, and absenteeism, or employees missing days of work. It may also adversely impact multiple areas of employee performance, including focus and decision making, time management, completing physical tasks, social interactions, and communication .

Is depression and anxiety a disability in the workplace? ›

Is Depression Covered by the ADA? Depression, along with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental health conditions, is covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA has been in place since 1992 and is meant to protect people with disabilities from being discriminated against by employers.

How do you tell if work is making you depressed? ›

If sadness, anxiety, loss of motivation, difficulty concentrating, unexplained bouts of crying, and boredom are as commonplace in your workday as filling up your coffee mug or sending an email, you may be experiencing depressive symptoms at work.

What will happen if anxiety depression and stress are ignored in the workplace? ›

It can lead to depression, insomnia and anxiety, among other conditions, which in turn can affect not just an individual's job performance and absenteeism, but can also manifest in strained working relationships with colleagues.

Can anxiety be a reason to be off work? ›

If you are diagnosed with depression or an anxiety disorder, then you need to recognize that is also a physical illness—just like colds and flu. Work with your therapist to determine when you should take time off to deal with your symptoms.

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