Depression is a costly, debilitating and often hidden occupational health problem. Research has indicated that the costs to an organization of treatment for depression can rival those for heart disease, and both major depressive disorder and forms of minor depression have been found to be associated with more disability days than other types of health diagnoses.

NIOSH wants to study workplace factors that might put working women more at risk of suffering from depression, and what can be done about it.

Various national and international studies indicate that women in developed countries experience depression at up to twice the rate of men. Studies that have examined this gender difference have focused on social, personality and genetic explanations. Few have explored factors in the workplace.

Examples of workplace factors that may contribute to depression among women include: additive workplace and home responsibilities, lack of control and authority, and low-paying and low-status jobs. Also, women are much more likely to face various types of discrimination in the workplace than men, ranging from harassment to inequalities in hiring and promotional opportunities, and these types of stressors have been strongly linked with psychological distress and other negative health outcomes.

On the positive side, NIOSH says organizations that are judged by their employees to value diversity and employee development engender lower levels of employee stress, and those that enforce policies against discrimination have more committed employees. Such organizational practices and policies may be beneficial for employee mental health, particularly the mental health of women.

NIOSH's research will focus on the following questions: 1) Which work organization factors are most predictive of depression in women; and 2) Are there measurable work organization factors that can protect women employees against depression.

A 30-40 minute survey will be administered by telephone to 2,500-3,000 newly employed women and men at 25 or more different organizations. Data will be collected initially and at one- and two-year follow-ups.