Norway is the most prosperous country in the world and one of the best places to grow old, but its men are more likely to develop a work disability due to depression than women, according to a new study in the International Journal of Methods in Psychiatric Research.

Main author Eva Lassemo said researchers at SINTEF — the largest independent research organization in Scandinavia — and Nordland and Finnmark hospitals were unsure why men were at greater risk. However, men "more commonly have less well-developed social networks and no one close who they can talk to," she said. "They also appear to be ashamed of admitting that they suffer from mental illnesses and wait longer before seeking help. They find it difficult to get in touch with their inner selves and bring their problems out into the open."

Over a 10-year period, researchers monitored 1,230 Norwegians using a social benefits register, which allowed them to compare patients’ lives to their medical and work disability histories. The researchers gave diagnostic interviews to all participants in 2001, and used the results of these interviews, plus the data from the social benefits register, to determine who was depressed and who wasn’t. None of the patients were diagnosed with depression by a doctor or psychiatrist.

After compiling their data, the researchers set out to find what exactly made these work-disabled Norwegians depressed. The researchers found that working long, difficult hours with more tasks and increased supervision could take its toll on the mental health of some workers. Lack of control in their work, as well as the feeling that their work was monotonous, stressful, or non-rewarding also factored into taking a disability leave due to depression.

"It's not uncommon for managers in the modern workplace to display little patience for those who are just 'ailing' from something," Lassemo said. "Depression is often characterized by feelings, such as low self-esteem, that one is a burden to others, or that colleagues are happier when sufferers are absent from the workplace."

According to the World Health Organization, depression affects more than 350 million people of all ages around the globe. Though there is no sure way to prevent depression, the researchers had a few suggestions, including changing the way we view mental illness and seeking help when you know something is wrong. "Welfare and work go hand in hand," Lassemo said. "It's very important both for individual patients and society as a whole to provide early, lasting, and effective treatments for depression, not least because these factors can help prevent work disability."

Source: Lassemo E, et al. Predicting disability pension - depression as hazard: a 10-year population-based cohort study in Norway. International Journal of Methods in Psychiatric Research. 2015.