Health: Getting sacked or divorced is more stressful than going to jail

A new ranking of the most stressful life events shows that people find it more disturbing to be divorced or fired from work than to go to prison. Jeremy Laurance, Health Editor, reports on a league table of psychiatri c risks.
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The prospect of suffering a major personal injury or illness is much more worrying to people than it was 20 years ago. It comes sixth in a list of the most stressful life events, up from 16 in a similar list drawn up 20 years ago.

The ranking, by US psychiatrists, is based on a study of 427 volunteers who were asked to assess 87 life events. The results showed changes compared with rankings made in 1977, with greater concern about health, relationship and work difficulties but less concern about money, retirement and sex.

The study, published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research and reported by Hospital Doctor, showed that women scored 86 of the 87 events as more stressful than men. However, the researchers, from the Veterans Affairs Medical Centre, in Reno, Nevada, claim this does not show that women overreact to life stresses, but that men underreact.

An earlier scale was produced in the 1960s and the authors of the new study say overall life stress appears to have increased by 45 per cent over the 40 year period.

Unmarried people gave higher scores across the range of events than those who were married indicating that the single find life a greater trial than those who can look to a partner for support.

life's trials - then and now


1. Death of spouse

2. Divorce

3. Death of close family member

4. Marital separation

5. Fired from work

6. Major illness or injury

7. Jail term

8. Death of close friend

9. Pregnancy

10. Major business readjustment

11. Loan repayment demand

12. Gain new family member

13. Marital reconciliation

14. Change in health of family

15. Change in financial state


1. Death of spouse

2. Death of close family member

3. Fired from work

4. Divorce

5. Pregnancy

6. Jail term

7. Loan repayment demand

8. Marital separation

9. Change in health of family member

10. Marriage

11. Retirement

12. Sexual difficulties

13. Change in financial state

14. Gain new family member

15. Death of close friend