A report issued last week from the Substance Abuse and
Mental Health Services Administration (an agency of the Department of Health and
Human Services) shows scientists and engineers are among the groups in the
American workforce least likely to experience clinical depression. But the
details show a more complex picture suggesting that scientists and engneers are
hardly immune from this disease.
The report combines data from the annual National
Survey on Drug Use and Health collected in 2004, 2005, and 2006. Of the 21
categories reported, 4.3% of those in the engineering-architecture-surveyors
category said they had one "major depressive episode" in the past year, as did
an almost identical 4.4% of those in the life-physical-social science category.
That’s the good news.
The not-so-good news is the large difference
between men and women. Among those in the life-physical-social science category,
7.2% of the women reported at least one bout of depression in the past year
compared to 2.3% of the men. In the engineering-architecture-surveyors category,
the gap is even larger: 3.3% of the men experienced a major depressive episode
in the previous year, compared to 11.1% of the women.
And there are other noteworthy findings. Our
colleagues in mathematics and computer science are more likely overall than
other scientific and engineering disciplines to experience depression. In this
group, 6.2% reported one major episode in the previous year, with women (10.4%)
more likely than men (4.6%) to be afflicted.
The assistants and hourly wage workers in our labs
and offices are also more likely to experience depression. Overall, 9.6% of the
health care practitioners and technical workers said they had at least one bout
of depression in the past year, as did 8.7% of education, training, and library
staff, and 8.1% of administrative and office support. In all three groups, more
women than men reported these episodes.
If you have had to deal with depression, either in
yourself or a member of your family, you know how damaging this disease can be.
If you have not had this first-hand experience, read the moving account from
2004, by former columnist Kat Arney, of how even scientists can get the blues.