Software developers have become the “tipping point” for depression among people who use software, a study found.
The finding, published Monday in the journal Depression and Anxiety, found that 17.5% of people with depression reported having a problem with software development in the past year, compared to 8.9% of those who did not.
“The software industry has a long and complex history of encouraging and enabling developers, and we all need to be aware of this and understand how to support our colleagues and partners in the field,” said senior author Dr. Elizabeth B. Dittmar, an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Washington.
“There is a real need for tools that are designed to help and support this community.
I think this is an area that we should take a very serious look at.”
The study included 1,600 software developers and 1,300 non-software developers.
Of those with depression, 22.5 % reported being on medication for the past six months, compared with 10.6% of the non-developers.
About 13.6 % of those with severe depression reported experiencing a coworker with depression.
Researchers said it was unclear whether this was a result of more people reporting having experienced depression in the industry or if the researchers’ method of assessing the severity of depression had not been rigorously applied.
The study did not investigate whether software development is a cause or a consequence of depression.
Dettmar said she had heard that depression was associated with lower job satisfaction and productivity, but did not know the extent of this effect.
She said the findings are important because they could help determine whether software developers should be paid more, or whether other factors should be taken into account when assessing whether software is causing a depression.
“I think it’s important to be mindful of the fact that the symptoms that are associated with depression are very much the same for anyone who is employed in the software industry,” she said.
“It’s just that the symptomatology is different.”
About two-thirds of people in the study said they felt depressed at least once in the previous year, and 15% reported that they had lost an interest in their job because of the illness.
About 4.4% of participants said they had not taken medication for depression in previous months.
The researchers also looked at the impact of different software packages.
They compared the software development kits of developers who used Microsoft Office 2013 and those who used Apple’s Swift programming language.
Both were more effective than others, but Office 2013 had the most positive impact.
Dattmar said that researchers were interested in whether software can be used as a tool to help people in distress, or if it is best used to help those who have severe depression.
For instance, she said, one study showed that the most effective antidepressant medication was Prozac, which was administered in a different way than most other antidepressants.
“So we would want to find out if the same can be said for depression, if it can be given as a drug, and how it affects people with the disease,” she added.
Dattimar and her colleagues did not use a statistical model to assess whether software contributed to depression or other conditions, such as anxiety or substance use disorders.
However, the researchers said that other research has found that software developers are less likely to use medication or have other health problems than non-tech workers.
Ditto for those who are depressed or struggling to cope with work.
Researchers hope that by better understanding the symptoms and severity of mental illness and providing tools to support people in need, the industry can help reduce the number of suicides, as well as other forms of suicide, that occur in the community.
The National Institute of Mental Health and the National Institutes of Health funded the study.