In stressful jobs, depression risk rises with hours worked, study in new doctors finds

The more hours someone works each week in a stressful job, the more their risk of depression rises, a study in new doctors finds.

Working 90 or more hours a week was associated with changes in depression symptom scores three times larger than the change in depression symptoms among those working 40 to 45 hours a week.

What’s more, a higher percentage of those who worked a large number of hours had scores high enough to qualify for a diagnosis of moderate to severe depression — serious enough to warrant treatment — compared with those working fewer hours.

The research team, based at the University of Michigan, used advanced statistical methods to emulate a randomized clinical trial, accounting for many other factors in the doctors’ personal and professional lives.

They found a “dose response” effect between hours worked and depression symptoms, with an average symptom increase of 1.8 points on a standard scale for those working 40 to 45 hours, ranging up to 5.2 points for those working more than 90 hours. They conclude that, among all the stressors affecting physicians, working a large number of hours is a major contributor to depression.

Writing in the New England Journal of Medicine, the team from Michigan Medicine, U-M’s academic medical center, report their findings from studying 11 years’ worth of data on more than 17,000 first-year medical residents. The recently graduated doctors were in training at hundreds of hospitals across the United States.

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