Depressing

Working in the sciences has a lot of ups and downs. It’s easy to feel aimless, overwhelmed, or just plain stupid. Sure, a eureka! moment is pretty nice, but I’ve always thought it didn’t add up to the most emotionally stable lifestyle. Apparently I was wrong. Workers in the Life, Physical, and Social Sciences are among the least likely to be depressed. I find that a little depressing. (If you follow the link, be sure to scroll down and look at Table 2. The difference between genders is stark.)

The figure below gives the percentage of workers who have had a major depressive episode within the past year.
adultdepressionfig1.jpg

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4 Responses to Depressing

  1. brianbunton says:

    That’s indeed amazing. I was with you, assuming we’d be at the other end of the spectrum.
    And the breakdown by gender is truly frightening. Maybe we should write an article for the Chronicle of Higher Education.

  2. jwambaugh says:

    I’m not surprised that physical sciences are low on the list. It seems to me that there are two (related) trends. Depression seems to decrease with diminished control over how time is spent and diminished social interaction. The second one may be counter-intuitive, but if you’ve known enough engineers it’s clear that some people are quite happy with a level of social interaction that would make others feel isolated. The first trend makes perfect sense to me, though. Even though research is one frustration after another, researchers are much more empowered to decide what to do about it. At the other end, if you’re being paid to prepare food or otherwise serve other people, there is little flexibility to try a different approach with the next person, and even then you’re not able to control for jerks. To my mind, outside of industry where there may be a substantial pay difference, the primary benefit to having an advanced degree is the freedom to control the thrust of your work (accepting that occasionally you’re given just enough rope to hang yourself with).

    Somewhat facetiously, I think we might say that the less you have to interact with people, the less likely to be depressed you are, but that this is a lot easier to take advantage of if you’re socially introverted than if you’re extraverted.

    As for the results for women, I would be curious to see a similar table for other groups such as domestic-born ethnic minorities and recent immigrants. I suspect that many workplaces are optimized to provide no more than the minimum necessary to keep male, predominantly white, employees sane. Different groups may have different minimal requirements that are currently not being optimized for.

  3. mfkidd says:

    I don’t know what exactly counts as a major depressive episode (hospital stay? counseling?), but I think it’s possible there’s a correlation between gender and likelihood of reporting depression.

  4. jwambaugh says:

    They used a definition from “the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV),6 which specifies a period of 2 weeks or longer during which there is either depressed mood or loss of interest or pleasure and at least four other symptoms that reflect a change in functioning, including problems with sleep, eating, energy, concentration, and self-image.” That sounds like fairly major depression to me.

    I think you’re probably right about reporting. Plenty of people I know, especially males, might even be oblivious to some of those symptoms despite suffering them.

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