From 2000 to 2015, antidepressant consumption more than doubled in Australia, a report from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development reveals. Australians are the second highest users in the world of antidepressants; using more than double antidepressants on average than French and Italians and five times as many as South Koreans. Increasing rates of antidepressant use is of significant concern.

Scientists who study social and psychological causes of mental health see anxiety and depression as a necessary signal that our needs are not being met. Mental health is produced socially: the presence or absence of mental health is above all a social indicator and therefore requires social, as well as individual solutions (World Health Organization).

Depression is much more likely to appear following a severe negative event (trauma) alongside long-term sources of stress and insecurity. There is concern that Australians are medicating issues focused on fixing the latter such as discomfort, loneliness, work stress and financial stress.

Johann Hari, author of Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions, writes that work insecurity is significantly impacting our mental health, reflected by the current job market to a shifting mass of chronically insecure people who don’t know whether they will have any work next week and may never have a stable job. 

According to UNSW research, there are a number of clear risk factors in a job that lead a person to develop mental health issues including people whose jobs are insecure, increasing their likelihood to be under more stress than others (particularly if finances are an issue).

For the first time, less than half of Australians have permanent, full-time work. The percentage of Australians in full-time work with with leave entitlements has dropped from 51.35% in 2012 to 49.97% in 2017, according to The Australia Institute’s Centre for Future Work’s analysis of Australian Bureau of Statistics data. Australia sits behind only the Netherlands and Switzerland when it comes to the total share of non-standard employment among OECD countries. Nearly 40% of Australian employees have ‘insecure’ work according to the ACTU’s Sally McManus, including insecure work as casual workers, those on contracts within the “gig economy” such as Uber drivers, entrepreneurs and people employed by labour hire organisations. The gig economy, with its pay-per-task culture, provides no annual or sick leave, insurance, or superannuation, and may compromise efforts by unions, governments and companies to establish reasonable employment conditions for an equitable society. The gig economy contributes to underemployment in Australia, currently at 8.4 per cent, having not fallen below 5.9 per cent since the early 1990s. Of Australia’s underemployed workers, women (63 per cent) are disproportionately represented.

For some women, the gig economy is an attractive solution to set their own schedule- free from inequitable corporate cultures- and for many, the gig economy is a gamble that pays off. Research by the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows a 46 per cent increase of women business operators over the past two decades. 

Most leaders believe the majority of women aged 22-35 leave corporate careers because they are planning to start a family, or because they have difficulty in balancing work and life (Bain, 2016). In sharp contrast, a global study found that 65 percent of women aged 22-35, compared with 56 percent of men, cited the number one reason for leaving their jobs was due to salary (HBR, 2016). On average in Australia, men take home $26, 527 a year more than women (WGEA, 2017). Further, for women experiencing pay inequity in the workplace, this can impact self-reported health, sleep quality, stress levels, as well as contributing negatively to performance. Women are leaving secure corporate roles at higher rates in their thirties “not for a decrease in the hours worked that women seek, but the flexibility to accomplish goals on their own terms” (ABS).

Acknowledging the enormous diversity of women- single, partnered, married, working, not working, retired, carers, non-carers- for some women, the disproportionate burden of both care work and household duties that falls to women can contribute to their decision to join the gig economy. 

According to Roy Morgan’s 2017 research, the rates of depression for Australian women increases with job insecurity. Women are, overall, more likely to suffer from anxiety, stress and/or depression than men (41% women compared to 27% men) aligning with majority 56% of working women who rate job security as ‘very poor’ (compared to 36% of men). Employees who rate their job security as ‘very poor’ are over 50% more likely than to suffer anxiety, stress or depression. 

The ultimate price? The highest rate of suicide for Australian women is in the age bracket of 45-49 (ABS). Mothers with teenage children form a significant component of this age bracket, directly impacting the next generation’s perception of managing insecure work.

Sady Doyle, author, recently wrote“[Mothers who work] don’t need ‘gigs,’ or a ‘flexibility’ that amounts to being on the clock for 24 hours a day. They need steady, well-compensated jobs with adequate parental leave, flex time, remote-work policies, and a culture that understands why some women may need to be out of the door in time for dinner, so that raising a child or caring for a sick relative is not fundamentally incompatible with meeting the demands of one’s job.”

Mitchell Services collaborates with organisations to mindfully create diverse, inclusive & well workplaces. Rather than focus on fixing the gig economy, we choose instead to work with small and large organisations to focus on building flexibility into full-time employment opportunities, for all.

BeyondBue: 1300 22 4636

Carers Australia: 1800 242 636

Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800

Lifeline Australia – 13 11 14

Relationships Australia: 1300 364 277

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