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A little stress can be a long-term problem for mental health, study finds

March 23, 2011|By Amina Khan, Los Angeles Times
(Lucy Nicholson / Reuters )

Even a little psychological distress adds up over time, according to a new study published online Wednesday in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

British and Swedish researchers looked at a 2002 survey of more than 17,000 Swedes in Stockholm County, and asked them a series of questions to rate their levels of psychological distress on a scale of zero to 12. Zero means no distress, 1-2 is mild, 3-7 is moderate and 8-12 is severe.

They then checked to see how many of these people had enrolled for disability pension awards in 2007. They found that the higher the level of psychological stress, the higher the likelihood that people would need a disability pension award five years down the line.

Even more strikingly, it turned out that people with even mild distress (who are considered in Swedish health surveys as having ‘good mental well-being’) had an elevated risk – up to 70% more likely to receive those benefits. The researchers, apparently unsure of the reason for that, expound on the possibilities:

"Is it possible that in a modern, education-based, post-industrial society like Sweden, which provides universal access to benefits, people with mild psychosocial deficits find it easier to access benefits than meet complex labor market demands? Are the strains and demands of modern society commonly exceeding human ability?"

Putting that big-picture thinking aside for a minute, it’s a good reminder to take care of your own mental well-being and find effective ways to cope with stress. The Mayo Clinic has a few suggestions.  

Follow me on Twitter @LAT_aminakhan.

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