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Risk of affective and stress related disorders among employees in human service professions
  1. J Wieclaw1,
  2. E Agerbo2,
  3. P B Mortensen2,
  4. J P Bonde1
  1. 1Department of Occupational Medicine, Aarhus University Hospital, Denmark
  2. 2National Centre for Register-Based Research, Aarhus University, Denmark
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr J Wieclaw
 Department of Occupational Medicine, Aarhus University Hospital, NoeHRebrogade 44, building 2C, DK-8000 Aarhus C, Denmark; jwiec{at}


Objectives: To examine the risk of affective and stress related disorders among men and women employed in human service professions.

Methods: Population based case-control study using data from national registers. Cases (n = 28 971) were identified in the Danish Psychiatric Central Research Register among all hospitalised patients and outpatients aged 18–65 who received a first time ever diagnosis of affective (ICD-10, F30–39) or stress related (ICD-10, F40–48) disorder from 1 January 1995 to 31 December 1998. Each case was assigned five never admitted referents (n = 144 855) of the same gender and age, randomly drawn from a 5% sample of the Danish population obtained from Statistics Denmark’s Integrated Database for Labour Market Research. Occupation held the year before matching was classified according to the Danish version of the International Classification of Occupation. Health care, education, social work, and customer services were defined as human service professions and constituted 21% of all employed in the study. Adjusted risks (hazard ratios) relative to all other occupations were calculated for 24 human service occupations.

Results: The relative risk of depression in human service professions was 1.35 (95% CI 1.24 to 1.47) for women and 1.49 (95% CI 1.29 to 1.73) for men. The risk of stress was 1.18 (95% CI 1.11 to 1.26) for women and 1.49 (95% CI 1.32 to 1.67) for men. Specific professions contributed differentially to the magnitude of risk, with education and social services displaying the highest risks. No increase in risks was found in customer service occupations. Gender was a significant modifying factor with the highest risk levels in men.

Conclusions: There was a consistent association between employment in human service occupations and the risk of affective and stress related disorders. Risks were highest for men working in these typically female professions. More work is needed to distinguish work hazards from effects attributable to selection mechanisms and personality characteristics.

  • occupation
  • mental disorders
  • gender
  • working conditions
  • human service

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  • Funding: The Danish Working Environment Council supported the work of Joanna Wieclaw and Jens Peter Bonde. The Stanley Medical Research Institute supported the work of Esben Agerbo and Preben Bo Mortensen. Psychiatric epidemiological research at the National Centre for Register-based Research is in part funded through a collaborative agreement with Centre for Basic Psychiatric Research, Psychiatric Hospital in Aarhus.

  • Competing interests: none declared