Even mild stress can lead to mental and physical disability
Even suffering from mild stress could significantly increase your risk of not being able to work and experiencing long-term disability, according to new research.
Previous studies have found that mental health problems can have a serious effect on future wellbeing.
However, a new study of more than 17,000 adults suggests that the impact of milder forms of psychological stress may have been underestimated.
Campaigners said the research meant people suffering stress needed to be helped earlier.
The latest study, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, focused on 17,000 working adults aged up to 64 living in Stockholm, in Sweden.
Researchers from Bristol University tracked the health of this group between 2002 and 2007, assessing their mental health and stress levels at the start of the study.
The team found that 649 people went on to receive disability benefit, of which 203 cases were linked to a mental health problem.
Higher levels of stress reported at the start of the study were linked to a significantly increased risk of people going on to receive disability benefits.
But the researchers found that even those with mild levels of stress were up to 70 per cent more likely to receive disability benefits. A quarter of these benefit claims were awarded for a physical illness, such as high blood pressure or stroke, while almost two-thirds of those awarded for a mental illness were linked to stress.
The researchers said their findings needed to be considered in the context of working life, where greater demands placed on employees as well as factors such as people not having as many close personal relationships and supportive networks, such as extended families.
Dr Dheeraj Rai, lead author and clinical lecturer at the School of Social and Community Medicine at Bristol University, said: "We know conditions such as depression and anxiety disorders are very disabling.
"But in a lot of people, stress-related symptoms are not severe enough to meet the thresholds to be diagnosed with these conditions. The study found that these people were also at an increased risk of long-term disability."
Dr Rai added: "We certainly do not advocate these people to be labelled with a new diagnosis, but we ought to know more about what, if anything, can be done to reduce the risk of them transitioning into long-term disability."
Simon Lawton Smith, of the Mental Health Foundation, said: "It's worrying that even relatively mild symptoms of stress appear to lead to long-term disability and to an increase in people receiving disability benefits.
"The answer has to be to identify people under stress before they reach a crisis point, and quickly provide them with the support they need to manage their lives, whether it's at home or at work."
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