Your Workaholism May Be a Cry for Help
Never mind career growth or productivity — think mental health
The first big holiday weekend of the summer is now behind us. Chances are you’re feeling rested after catching up on some sleep, getting errands done, and enjoying time with family and friends — right?
“Taking work to the extreme may be a sign of deeper psychological or emotional issues,” said a clinical psychologist.
If you’re not, because you spent the crux of your weekend working instead, let’s chat — there may be bigger issues here.
Researchers from the University of Bergen in Norway shared the results of a recent study on the connection between workaholism and psychiatric disorders.
“Workaholics scored higher on all the psychiatric symptoms than non-workaholics,” said Cecilie Schou Andreassen, a researcher and clinical psychologist specialist at the Department of Psychosocial Science at the University of Bergen (UiB).
“Taking work to the extreme may be a sign of deeper psychological or emotional issues. Whether this reflects overlapping genetic vulnerabilities, disorders leading to workaholism or, conversely, workaholism causing such disorders, remains uncertain,” Schou Andreassen added.
Among workaholics, the researchers found there was often a link with anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and depression. The study, a joint project among researchers from Nottingham Trent University and Yale University, looked at the behaviors of 16,426 working adults. The results are published in the journal PLOS One.
None of this is surprising to mental health care experts, who have long seen a connection.
- Frustration or irritability
- Increased anger, conflict with others
- Increased use of alcohol or drugs
- Violent behavior
- Feelings of discouragement
- Problems with concentration and motivation
“Along with anxiety, depression is the most common mental health problem people experience in the workplace,” said Dr. Will Courtenay, a leading psychologist in Oakland, California.
“Research shows that rates of depression have been increasing over the last 50 years — and that these increases aren’t the result of changes in population,” Courtenay told LifeZette.
Clinical depression has become one of our most costly illnesses. Left untreated, the Mental Health American reported, “Depression is as costly as heart disease or AIDS to the U.S. economy, costing over $51 billion in absenteeism from work and lost productivity and $26 billion in direct treatment costs.”
In addition to the usual issues that come with constantly being on the clock — poor health, decreased happiness, and wrecked personal relationships — depression and other mental health problems are often either sparked or made worse by work-related concerns.
Stress and anxiety in the workplace may be what trigger a depressive state, said Robert Cox, a mental health counselor from Liberty, Missouri. Creating a workplace where stressors are well-managed and self-care is taken seriously can be cost-effective for companies, he added.
“The problem with depression is that it doesn’t always look like depression. [In men especially] it often looks more like frustration, irritability, anger, or conflict with others,” said Courtenay.
If any of these issues sound familiar, it may be worth looking at the criteria researchers used when drawing the line between addictive and non-addictive behavior.
They asked study participants to rate the following experiences over the past year from 1 (never) to 5 (always):
- You think of how you can free up more time to work.
- You spend much more time working than initially intended.
- You work in order to reduce feelings of guilt, anxiety, helplessness, or depression.
- You have been told by others to cut down on work — and you don’t listen to them.
- You become stressed if you are prohibited from working.
- You deprioritize hobbies, leisure activities, and/or exercise because of work.
- You work so much that it has negatively influenced your health.
If you scored a 4 (often) or a 5 (always) on four or more criteria, you are likely a workaholic.
The advice Courtenay often gives to those who may be experiencing depression and in turn, overwork — or vice-versa: Lay off the caffeine. The short-term benefits quickly give way to longer-term problems of irritability and quickness of temper.
“And if you’re so inclined, politely decline the martini at lunch. Although it’s often men’s first go-to for personal problems, alcohol will only worsen any difficulties with anxiety, depression, or other mental health concerns,” he said.
Making matters worse, Courtenay added that men cope less effectively with depression and anxiety than women do. They're more likely to try to simply avoid it by denying it or to bury it by smoking, drinking, or gambling more. They're also less likely than women to use healthy strategies, such as talking to friends and seeking help.
"Men need to recognize that frequent reactions of irritability or anger in the workplace may actually be signs of depression. If these reactions continue, a man would be wise to get the opinion of a mental health professional."