Research projects

Work and depression/anxiety disorders – a systematic review of reviews

Principal researchers

Dr Samuel B Harvey
Ms Sadhbh Joyce
Mr Matthew Modini
Prof Helen Christensen
Prof Richard Bryant
Prof Arnstein Mykletun
Prof Philip B. Mitchell


University of New South Wales


$93,149.00 (+ GST)

Award type   

Beyond Blue grant

Project completion year      


Project brief

The aim of this project was to undertake a review of existing reviews (i.e. systematic literature reviews, literature reviews, and meta-analyses) related to work and depression/anxiety disorders. The objectives of the Project were:

  • to identify the research evidence related to the impact (positive and negative) of work on depression/anxiety disorders
  • to identify the research evidence related to the costs of, and benefits of addressing, depression/anxiety disorders in the workplace
  • to identify the research evidence related to the effectiveness of workplace interventions aimed at addressing depression/anxiety disorders
  • to identify existing research evidence gaps in relation to the above.

The project sought to answer the following research questions:

  • How does work contribute to the development of depression and anxiety disorders?
  • What are the costs associated with depression and anxiety disorders in the workplace?
  • How does work protect against, and contribute to the recovery from depression and anxiety disorders?
  • What are the benefits of addressing depression and anxiety disorders in the workplace? (for both the individual and the workplace)
  • What interventions have been effective in addressing depression and anxiety disorders in the workplace?
  • What are the evidence gaps related to work and depression/anxiety disorders?


A meta-review is a method of systematically appraising the results of existing academic reviews and is one of the best ways of appraising the evidence from a broad range of research studies.

A detailed and exhaustive search of the academic literature identified over 5,000 articles of potential relevance to the research questions. After screening each of the 5,000 articles and appraising the quality of the methods used, a total of 144 reviews were identified as being key references for this report. Of these, 31 were deemed to be moderate or high quality and formed the basis of the main findings.

Key findings  

  • Mental health conditions in the workplace are a major public health and economic problem. It is estimated that depression alone costs Australian employers $12.3 billion each year.
  • The vast majority of mental health conditions seen in the workplace are either depression or anxiety conditions. These conditions are treatable and, at times, preventable.
  • Preventing workers from becoming mentally unwell and assisting those who develop a mental health condition to remain at work is in the best interest of employers, individuals and the community.
  • There is a general consensus that work is able to promote better mental health and facilitate recovery from mental health conditions. However, certain types of work or work environments can contribute to the onset of, and exacerbate existing, depression and anxiety.
  • The relationship between work and mental health conditions is not simple. While high job demands, change and trauma in the workplace can increase the risk of developing mental health conditions among workers, a variety of other individual and organisational factors can mitigate against this increased risk.
  • Although there is limited good quality research evidence available at present, the following interventions may be effective in promoting mental health in the workplace:
    • increasing employee control
    • promoting of physical activity
    • stress management approaches which utilise cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) techniques
    • workplace counselling: medication and psychological therapies; modified CBT delivered as part of a return to work program; and workplace-based exposure therapy.
  • There appears to be a wide gap between what the evidence suggests is best practice and what is actually being implemented in some workplaces. This non-evidence based approach to workplace mental health is likely to be ineffective and potentially harmful.
  • Given the cost, both economic and personal, of mental health conditions in the workplace there is an urgent need for additional research and support dedicated to finding practical solutions to prevent and better manage mental health conditions in the workplace. Such research needs to involve both worker and employer groups from the outset.
  • Reducing the burden of mental health conditions among the working population and improving the occupational outcomes for those with mental health conditions are achievable and important goals. Success in this endeavour will require close collaboration between health professionals, researchers, workers, employers and policy makers.


For more information about workplace mental health resources and training (including e-learning) visit Heads Up

Stay in touch with us

Sign up below for regular emails filled with information, advice and support for you or your loved ones.

Sign me up