Are workaholics putting themselves at risk of mental health disorders?

The results of a new study led experts to warn that workaholics are more prone to suffering from psychiatric disorders including ADHD, OCD, anxiety and depression.

The research, carried out at the University of Bergen, in Norway, found that not being able to switch off from work interrupts sleeping patterns, affects diet, and results in people doing less exercise. The study shows workaholics score higher on all psychiatric symptoms compared to non-workaholics.

Nearly 17,000 workers were analysed for the study and the results found that:

  • 32.7% of workaholics met the criteria for ADHD compared to just 12.7% of non-workaholics
  • 25.6% of workaholics met the criteria for OCD compared to 8.7% of non-workaholics
  • 33.8% of workaholics met the criteria for anxiety compared to 11.9% of non-workaholics
  • 8.9% of workaholics met the criteria for depression compared to just 2.6% of non-workaholics

In the study, the term ‘workaholic’ was defined as someone who is overly concerned about work, is driven by an uncontrollable motivation to work and invests so much time and effort into work that it impairs other areas of their life.

Clinical Psychologist Specialist - Cecilie Schou Andreassen - said that whilst working too much can take a toll on a person’s mental health, there are many who work to the extreme because of deep psychological or emotional issues they don’t know how to deal with.

She commented:

“Whether this reflects overlapping genetic vulnerabilities, disorders leading to workaholism or, conversely, workaholism causing such disorders, remains uncertain.”

Dr Andreassen has called for further investigation into neurobiological deviations which are related to workaholic behaviours. She continued:

“In wait for more research, physicians should not take for granted that a seemingly successful workaholic does not have ADHD-related or other clinical features. Their considerations affect both the identification and treatment of these disorders.”

Working too much can also have other implications on mental health such as burn-out, anger and/or developing physical symptoms such as stomach problems and headaches.

Signs that you could be a workaholic

  • Always working late, checking emails during the evenings and at weekends, and unable to switch off on holiday
  • Thinking of ways to free up time to work more
  • Working to reduce feelings of guilt, anxiety, helplessness or depression
  • Impacting relationships, if a person is refusing requests to cut back on work
  • Becoming stressed if unable to work
  • De-prioritising everything else, including; friends, family, hobbies, leisure activities, holidays and/or exercise
  • Negative impact on physical health
  • Trouble delegating work to others

Symptoms of ADHD

There are many signs of ADHD, but some of the most common include:

  • Having a short attention span and being easily distracted
  • Making careless mistakes
  • Appearing forgetful or losing things
  • Not being able to stick to tasks that are tedious or time-consuming
  • Not being able to listen to or carry out instructions
  • Difficulty organising things
  • Being unable to sit still and constantly fidgeting
  • Excessive talking and interrupting conversations
  • Acting without thinking

Symptoms of OCD

It’s estimated that OCD affects nearly 750,000 people in the UK. It causes a particular pattern of thoughts and behaviours which often come in four main stages:

  • Obsession – where an unwanted, intrusive and often distressing thought, image or urge repeatedly enters a person’s mind
  • Anxiety – the obsession often provokes feelings of intense anxiety or distress
  • Compulsion – sufferers carry out repetitive behaviours or mental acts they feel compelled to perform as a result
  • Temporary relief – the compulsive behaviour brings temporary relief from anxiety, but the obsession and anxiety soon return and the cycle begins again

Symptoms of anxiety

Around 6 million people in the UK are thought to suffer from anxiety. It’s one of the most common mental health disorders in the country but the symptoms often go unnoticed or undiagnosed.

The symptoms of anxiety include:

  • Feelings of panic, fear and uneasiness
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Cold or sweaty hands or feet
  • Shortness of breath
  • Heart palpitations
  • Dry mouth
  • Numbness or tingling in the hands or feet
  • Nausea
  • Muscle tension
  • Dizziness

Symptoms of depression

Depression figures continue to rise and it’s a condition that can be incredibly debilitating. Its symptoms include:

  • Feeling helpless or hopeless
  • Loss of interest in the things you used to enjoy
  • Appetite or weight changes
  • Changes in your sleep pattern
  • Anger or irritability
  • Loss of energy
  • Self-loathing
  • Participating in reckless behaviour
  • Finding it difficult to concentrate
  • Having negative thoughts

If you think that you or someone you know could be suffering from anxiety, depression or any other mental health condition, please feel free to visit our Depression and Anxiety Treatment Programme page for more information about the signs, symptoms and treatments that are available.

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