So last week, I maundered on about the joys of working from home. For a little old introvert like moi, the benefits are many. But how did I get onto that topic?
Welp, I’m researching the causes of depression, in part because Ash Dorning told me to. In his day, depression was called melancholia, and the most frequent prescriptions were to hang out in beautiful nature, move the heck around (walking, fishing, riding, “taking the air,”), and stick with caring, upbeat people who read good books (I did not make that up).
In my research, I came across some studies of the British civil service done by Sir Michael Marmot several decades ago. The purpose of the inquiries was to look at how work impacts our health, and the general theory going in was: The guy (back then it was always a guy) in the corner office has the most stress, the most visibility, the most accountability beyond his department. That’s where the heart attacks, anxiety, depression, and stroke rates will be highest.
Nope. Sir Michael found a straight-line correlation between how far down the pay scale your position was, and how HIGH your risk of physical and mental misery was. All of the civil servants were making a solid livable wage, all were fairly well educated, all were doing “desk” jobs in a society where higher education is affordable and health care is easily accessed. What varied was a) whether they felt they had control over their in-boxes, and b) whether working harder meant more recognition (promotion).
Then the researchers took it one step further: They looked within pay grades for the jobs that had some autonomy and compared them to the jobs that required passive acceptance of whatever was assigned. No surprise, the passive jobs were much more prone to depression and ill health, and yes, we can screen out the causation argument: People with no history of depression became depressed working those in-box jobs. People depressed in the in-box jobs lost the diagnosis when they switched to a more self-empowered position.
The methodology for this research was rigorous, in part because the stakes were high. In one tax inspectors’ office, the suicide rate was four times the national average. Pills might (that’s a big might) ameliorate symptoms of depression, but the cure was to restructure the work place and the means by which people were recruited to it.
We’re told depression is a result of “brain chemistry” run amok, but in Ash Dorning’s day, nobody would have accepted that as a reasonable explanation for melancholia. The logical inquiry would have progressed to: But WHY is the brain chemistry amok, and most often in fairly predictable segments of society? I will do more research on the not-very-cheering topic of why depression happens (thanks, Ash), but this research about work struck me as important and under-reported.
We just set the clocks back, and in the northern hemisphere, we’re approaching the cold, dark, don’t-go-outside season. If you get down, what are your coping mechanisms? Have you spotted factors that make the blues more likely to come around? To one commenter, I’ll send a signed copy of My Own and Only Duke.