Depression, Work and Identity in a Neoliberal World: Perspectives from Australia and the UK

Wednesday, July 16, 2014: 3:40 PM
Room: 415
Oral Presentation
Renata KOKANOVIC , Monash University, Melbourne, Australia
Sue ZIEBLAND , Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, University of Oxford, Oxford, OX1 2ET, United Kingdom
Brigid PHILIP , Monash University, Melbourne, Australia
Damien RIDGE , University of Westminster, London, United Kingdom
Since the 1980s, job markets in economies such as the United Kingdom (UK) and Australia have been shaped by neoliberal policies directed at increasing competitiveness and productivity.  While different national policies and institutions are at play, workers in these countries have been affected by some common trends, including decreased union membership, restructuring, outsourcing, off-shoring, increased workload pressures, short-term contracts, and redundancies, contributing to greater job insecurity and workplace stress. During the same period, the prevalence of depression diagnoses has increased worldwide, with the World Health Organisation estimating that over 100 million people are currently living with depression. Recently, sociologists have theorised about the possible connections between these two trends, suggesting that the increasing demand for workers to be flexible and enterprising has contributed to them feeling stressed, with implications for depression (Rose 2007; Ehrenberg 2010). Yet relatively few qualitative studies have empirically explored the relationship between work, depression and identity. This paper elucidates the connections between work and personal narratives of depression using 77 in-depth interviews with people living with depression in Australia and the UK. Interviews were conducted between 2003 and 2010. In this paper, we provide a secondary analysis of interview transcripts (with original researchers involved), using thematic analysis to explore how people talk about their experiences of work in the context of their illness narratives. We will uncover how people living with depression experience work, including how work and workplace policies (e.g. antidiscrimination, sick leave) can both contribute to emotional distress and protect against it. We locate our empirical findings in the context of theoretical debates about the impacts of neoliberalism on contemporary individuals, and draw explicit comparisons between people’s experiences in Australia and the UK to illustrate our points.