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Traumatic life events
by Susan Crompton

E

veryone complains these days about being “stressed out.” Some people are impatient and frustrated with life’s inconveniences; others feel irritated and aggrieved by

the hassles of everyday living. But there are more severe causes of stress in life: a family member is gravely ill, a close friend dies, a couple separates. Even coping with happyoccasions,

like marriage or the birth of a child, can be stressful. Stress has a proven effect on people’s physical and mental health, which is why both psychologists and

CST

What you should know about this study
Journal of Psychosomatic Research. The scale attempts to quantify the impact of 43 stressful events in terms of the extent to which a person would need to adjust their establishedlifestyle in order to adapt to the situation. Selected values from the scale are reprinted below (highest value is 100). Stress event Death of spouse Divorce Marital separation Death of a close family relation (excludes spouse) Illness or wounds (illness or injury) Marriage Dismissal (job loss) Marriage reconciliation Illness of a family member Pregnancy Addition of a new family member Death of aclose friend 63 53 50 47 45 44 40 39 37 Event value 100 73 65

This article is based on data drawn from the 1998 General Social Survey (GSS). In that year, the GSS interviewed over 10,000 Canadians aged 15 and over living in private households in the 10 provinces. Among the many questions asked was a sequence of questions about several key life experiences. This article examines data about fiveof these experiences, defined as traumatic life events. More than 9,900 respondents, representing over 22.1 million Canadians, answered these questions.1 The data provide information only about the type of event experienced in the preceding 12 months but not the number of times that it occurred. For example, even if two family members had died, the respondent would be able to report only that shehad experienced the death of a family member. Traumatic life event: in the 12 months preceding the survey, the respondent had experienced one or more of the following five events: the death of a family member, the death of a close friend, the serious illness or injury of a family member or a friend, had themselves been seriously ill or injured, or someone had left or moved into their home(including the birth of a child or a new relationship).2 For the sake of variety, “major crisis” and “severe shock” are used as synonyms. The Holmes-Rahe scale In 1967, Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe published the “Social Readjustment Rating Scale” in the

Source: http://www.mdmultimedia.com/Formatio/Socio/Holmes-e.htm (accessed October 22, 2002). 1. 8% of respondents did not answer the questions atall and are excluded from the study. 2. Three questions in this sequence are not included in the analysis: change of job or starting a new job (affecting 14% of adults aged 15 and over); loss of job (6%); and sense of belonging to the community (57% felt very or somewhat strong ties).

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CANADIAN SOCIAL TRENDS

SPRING 2003

Statistics Canada — Catalogue No. 11-008

medical researchersare concerned with stressors. When Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe developed their now-famous “Social Readjustment Rating Scale” (published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research in 1967), their purpose was to rate a life event in terms of the amount of effort it would take a person to adapt to the situation. Events receiving the highest weight are those involving loss: the death of a spouse israted at 100 out of 100; divorce, separation and death of a family member ranged from the mid-60s to mid-70s. Further down the scale are events that are joyful but nevertheless disruptive of a person’s routine; getting married scores almost as high as suffering through a serious personal illness or injury, while adding a new member to the family is almost as difficult to adjust to as a family...
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