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Shift work linked to higher chance of mental illness

More than a million Australians face a higher risk of developing depression with new data suggesting a link between shift work and an increased chance of poor mental health.

The international study, including research from the University of Southern Queensland (USQ), combined data to examine the schedules and mental health symptoms of more than 28 thousand participants.

USQ School of Health and Wellbeing’s Dr Tracy Kolbe-Alexander said working outside the standard hours (7:00am to 6:00pm) held potential physical and mental health consequences.

“Night work and inconsistent work hours disrupt the normal sleep–wake cycle (circadian rhythm),” she said.

“Through a systematic review of numerous studies, we found shift work was associated with a 28 percent increased likelihood of adverse mental health outcomes combined.

“This was more pronounced in female shift workers, who were more likely to report symptoms (particularly depressive symptoms) than females who did not work shifts.”

The analysis was conducted by research teams at USQ, the University of Queensland, Griffith University, and the University of Exeter, UK.

“Sleeping at odd times of the day, together with shifting schedules, creates challenges for maintaining healthy work-life balance,” Dr Kolbe-Alexander said.

“Opportunities for family, social and leisure activities are constrained, potentially leading to social isolation.

“Also, altered sleep patterns due to shift work have been associated with irritability, depressed mood, anxiety and nervousness.”

Dr Kolbe-Alexander said individuals and organisations needed to find interventions to help reduce these risks.

“This might include physical activity, improved nutrition, sleep quality and having more autonomy at work,” she said.

“Also, workplace health promotion programs and policies are needed.

“Given service and production demands, industries in the transport, hospitality, manufacturing and health-care sectors depend on shift work.

“Now we know the risk, action must be taken to minimise the threat at both a personal and industry level,” Dr Kolbe-Alexander said.

The study, ‘Shift Work and Poor Mental Health: A Meta-Analysis of Longitudinal Studies’, was published by the American Journal of Public Health (AJPH) and is available here.

Cars in traffic jam
Dr Kolbe-Alexander said working outside standard hours (7:00am to 6:00pm) held potential physical and mental health consequences.