Stressful life events often the last straw

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Australians who experience stressful life events like separation or serious personal injury were often experiencing lower wellbeing prior to the event occurring, according to new research released today by the Australian Institute of Family Studies.

Australian Institute of Family Studies Director, Professor Alan Hayes said the occurrence of negative life events could be the culmination of an extended negative process signalling the need for assistance.

“The study shows that people who experience a negative life event are often already experiencing poor wellbeing and that when the event occurs it can lead to a further decline in wellbeing,” he said.

“The experience of unsettling multiple life events appeared to accentuate any negative effects on personal wellbeing. This became apparent when people reported three or more such events over the 12-month period.

“Generally, men and women who experienced such events over a 12 month period had a decline in their overall wellbeing and were more likely to have a high sense of social isolation after the event.”

Professor Hayes said the study also found vulnerable groups with limited resources were more likely than others to experience unsettling life events and the repercussions were more serious.

“Some individuals and families appear more vulnerable to experience negative life events like separation from a spouse or a long term partner, serious personal injury or illness, a major worsening of financial circumstances and being a victim of physical violence,” he said.

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“Not only are some people more likely to experience these unsettling life events, but they tend to hit harder among more disadvantaged groups and can often come as ‘the last straw’ for people battling difficult circumstances.”

Australian Institute of Family Studies Senior Research Fellow, Dr Jennifer Baxter said the research included data from two large-scale national longitudinal studies and focused on 14 adverse life events.

“The study examined common life events such as a close relative suffering an illness or injury, the death of a close friend or other relative, suffering a personal injury or illness, and changing residence,” she said.

“The death of a close family friend or another relative was the most commonly experienced event, with one quarter of respondents reporting that this had occurred to them or to their partner in the previous 12 months.

“The events which most impacted on an individual’s personal wellbeing were separation from a partner, serious personal injury, a major worsening of financial circumstances and being a victim of physical violence.

“Clearly some life events like a major financial crisis have greater implications for wellbeing than other lesser events, like moving house.

“But social status influences the likelihood of experiencing multiple potentially stressful life events and limits the capacity of individuals and their families to negotiate these successfully.

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“It’s important to target prevention and early intervention services to those most at risk as a result of the load of life events that may befall them.”

Source: Australian Institute of Family Studies

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Date Created: October 4, 2012