Are work demands associated with mental distress? Evidence from women in rural India


PURPOSE: High work demands might be a determinant of poor mental health among women in low- and middle-income countries, especially in rural settings where women experience greater amounts of labor-intensive unpaid work. Research originating from such settings is lacking. METHODS: We estimated the cross-sectional association between work demands and mental distress among 3177 women living in 160 predominantly tribal communities in southern Rajasthan, India. A structured questionnaire captured the number of minutes women spent on various activities in the last 24 h, and we used this information to measure women’s work demands, including the total work amount, nature of work (e.g., housework), and type of work (e.g., cooking). Mental distress was measured with the Hindi version of the 12-item General Health Questionnaire. We used negative binomial regression models to estimate the association between work demands (amount, nature, and type) and mental distress. RESULTS: On average, women spent more than 9.5 h a day on work activities. The most time, intensive work activity was caring for children, the elderly, or disabled (149 min). In adjusted models, we found a U-shaped association between work amount and mental distress. High amounts of housework were associated with higher distress, whereas paid work and farmwork amount were not. Certain types of housework, including collecting water and cleaning, were associated with increased distress scores. CONCLUSIONS: We found an association between aspects of work demands and mental distress. Research in other contexts where women perform high amounts of unpaid work, particularly within the home or farm, is warranted.

Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol
Sam Harper
Sam Harper
Associate Professor of Epidemiology

My research interests include impact evaluation, reproducible research, and social epidemiology.