An examination of the long-term impact of job strain on mental health and wellbeing over a 12-year period

  • Richard A. BurnsEmail author
  • Peter Butterworth
  • Kaarin J. Anstey
Original Paper



Job strain has been implicated in a range of employee health outcomes including psychiatric health. Much of the literature is drawn from studies that utilise cross-sectional designs, whilst the long-term follow-up of participants is limited. We examine the short and long-term risks of job strain for depression and wellbeing over a 12-year period. In particular, we utilise measures of wellbeing to emphasise the importance of discriminating between indices of subjective and psychological wellbeing that complement measures of mental health.


Participants (n = 2530) were aged between 40 and 44 years at baseline and were drawn from the Personality and Total Health (PATH) Through Life Project. Participants were observed once every 4 years for 12 years.


A high strain job was associated with an increased risk of reporting sub-syndromal [RRR = 1.66 (95 % CI 1.23; 2.25), p < 0.001], minor [RRR = 1.92 (95 % CI 1.19; 3.10), p < 0.001] and major depression [RRR = 2.19 (95 % CI 1.30; 3.67), p < 0.001], but strain was not a long-term risk for depression 4 years later. In contrast, strain was a risk for both cross-sectional and longitudinal wellbeing outcomes. Moving into a high strain job was a risk for developing depression [RRR = 1.81 (95 % CI 1.26; 2.59), p < 0.001], but the cumulative exposure to a high strain job was not associated with poorer outcomes in adjusted models.


Overall, our results emphasise the importance of current job strain, and the risk of moving into a high strain job, on adverse mental health and wellbeing outcomes. Effects were not consistent between indices of mental health, subjective or psychological wellbeing, supporting the need to dedifferentiate between wellbeing and mental health.


Job strain Mental health Wellbeing 



We thank Helen Christensen, Andrew MacKinnon, Simon Easteal, Anthony Jorm, Patricia Jacomb, Karen Maxwell, Kristine Koh, and the PATH interviewers. PATH has been supported by the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC Grant No. 973302, 179805, 350833, 157125). This manuscript was supported by the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Population Ageing Research (Project #: CE110001029); ARC Future Fellowship (FT130101444 to PB); and an NHMRC Fellowship (#1002560 to KJA). The findings and views reported in this paper are those of the author(s) and not those of the original studies or their respective funding agencies.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that there is no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Richard A. Burns
    • 1
    Email author
  • Peter Butterworth
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • Kaarin J. Anstey
    • 1
  1. 1.Centre for Research on Ageing, Health and Wellbeing, The Research School of Population HealthThe Australian National UniversityCanberraAustralia
  2. 2.Centre for Mental Health, Melbourne School of Population and Global HealthUniversity of MelbourneMelbourneAustralia
  3. 3.Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research, Faculty of Business and EconomicsUniversity of MelbourneMelbourneAustralia

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