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Even Mild Stress Can Lead to Disability, Study Says

Last Updated: March 24, 2011.

Importance of psychological distress may be underestimated, researchers suggest.

THURSDAY, March 24 (HealthDay News) -- Even mild stress can cause long-term disability that prevents people from working, new research suggests.

While it has long been known that mental disorders can be a cause of disability, the new findings indicate that the effects of milder forms of stress should be taken more seriously, according to Dheeraj Rai, of the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom, and colleagues.

The study included over 17,000 employed adults in Stockholm, Sweden. At the start of the study in 2002, the participants completed a questionnaire designed to assess their mental health and stress levels, and the researchers tracked their health through 2007.

During the follow-up period, 649 of the participants began receiving disability benefits -- 203 for mental health issues and the remainder for physical health problems, the investigators found.

Study participants who had initially been assessed as having higher levels of stress were much more likely to start receiving long-term disability benefits during the follow-up period, the findings showed.

After taking into account other factors that might affect the results, the team found that even mild levels of stress raised the risk of receiving disability benefits by up to 70 percent, according to the report published online March 23 in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

"Mild psychological distress may be associated with more long-term disability than previously acknowledged and its public health importance may be underestimated," Rai and colleagues concluded.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about stress.

SOURCE: Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, news release, March 23, 2011

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