What is the issue?
A sharp rise in hospital admissions for stress over the last year was widely covered in the papers today, with The Independent linking the increase to the recession and the Daily Mail pointing out that more men were treated in hospital for stress than women.
The reports are based on figures showing that, in England, hospital admissions for stress rose by 7% in 12 months, with admission rates highest among people of working age.
Admissions were highest in North West England and lowest in South West England. This geographical variation may be due to differing levels of job losses. The North West has been hit particularly hard by job losses as traditional working-class sectors of employment, such as construction and manufacturing, have taken a particularly “bad hit”.
By contrast, during the same period, admissions for anxiety fell by almost 3% in the same period. It is unclear why.
What is the difference between stress and anxiety?
Stress is the feeling of being under too much mental or emotional pressure.
Most people will feel stressed at times, but persistent stress can adversely affect both your physical and psychological health.
Common signs of stress include sleeping problems, sweating, loss of appetite and difficulty concentrating.
Anxiety is a feeling of mild or severe unease such as worry or fear. It affects everyone occasionally but can become a problem if you feel very anxious.
Unlike stress, anxiety disorder is a recognised illness. There are several types of anxiety disorder, including panic attacks and phobia. Anxiety can have both physical and psychological symptoms, including loss of concentration, sleep problems, irritability and tearfulness.
Where did the figures come from?
The figures come from the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC), previously known as the NHS Information Centre. The HSCIC is England’s independent source of health and social care information. Its role is to collect and analyse facts and figures about the NHS and social services and convert it into useful information to help providers improve services.
The HSCIC compiles monthly hospital episode statistics (HES), a record of all patients admitted to hospitals, from data sent by more than 300 NHS trusts and primary care trusts in England, as well as from some independent organisations. It contains details of inpatient care, outpatient appointments and Accident and Emergency attendances. HES are produced and published on a monthly basis and are used to produce an annual analysis showing trends in activity.
What do the figures show?
The figures for hospital admissions in England, from June 2011 to May 2012, show that:
- There were 6,366 admissions for stress, a rise of 6.8% on the previous 12-month period.
- Admissions were highest among those between the ages of 18 and 60.
- Slightly more men were admitted than women, with 54% of admissions due to stress being male.
- The highest rate of admissions was in the North West Strategic Health Authority (20 per 100,000 population), followed by London (15.9 per 100,000). The lowest rates for admissions were in the South West SHA (6.7 admissions per 100,000 population).
- The increase in admissions for stress was higher than hospital admissions overall. These increased by about 2% in the same period.
- There were 8,586 admissions for anxiety, a 2.6% decrease on the previous year.
- 62.8% of admissions due to anxiety were women.
- The North East Strategic Health Authority had the highest admission rate (23.9 per 100,000 population). The South Central SHA had the lowest (10.6 per 100,000).
- For both genders, the rate of admission increases with age. For females, the rate increases markedly after 60.
How reliable is the data?
The figures are reliable but the HSCIC points out that they should be treated as provisional estimates, until the final statistics are published. Furthermore, the figures should not be interpreted as the number of people who were admitted, as the same person may have been admitted on more than one occasion.
What could explain the rise in admissions for stress?
It’s not certain what has caused the rise in admissions, but economic factors may play a role. The rise in admissions for stress was highest among adults of working age and the highest rates were in the North West, which has suffered high unemployment rates.
Recent research has suggested there may be links between poor mental health and economic recession. One study published in August found that between 2008 and 2010, there were 846 more suicides among men than would have been expected from historical trends. It suggested that about two fifths of this increase could be attributed to rising unemployment during the recession of the same period.
What should I do if I feel anxious or stressed?
Stress is unpleasant and can cause serious illness if it is not addressed. It's important to recognise the symptoms of stress early. There are many things you can do to manage stress more effectively, such as learning how to relax, taking regular exercise and adopting good time-management techniques.
If self-help techniques aren’t working, see your GP. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is another effective treatment.
What can I do if I have money worries?
It’s normal to feel worried, anxious or down when times are hard. Job insecurity, redundancy, debt and financial problems can all cause emotional distress.
There are, however, many things you can do to help yourself if you're in a difficult situation, such as:
- Don’t withdraw from life. Make an effort to see friends and family and keep your CV up-to-date.
- Ignoring your bills or debt isn’t going to make them go away. If you think you are going to have serious difficulties in meeting your financial obligations, seek advice about your options. The Citizens Advice Bureau website is an excellent place for finding out about benefits and how to deal with debt.
- Don’t be tempted to use alcohol or drugs as an escape. They may provide short-term relief but are no substitute for a long-term solution.
Read more about Coping with money worries.