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Don't worry, be happy. No, really

Brooding on bad times is the way to madness, says Liverpool Uni study

Published on October 17th 2013.

Don't worry, be happy. No, really

 A LITTLE bit of “Que Sera, Sera” when things go badly wrong could hold the key to a happy life. 

You may already know that the way to peace of mind is to go with flow in the face of adversity, but now a major study by University of Liverpool academics is bearing that idea out with science. 

Traumatic life events are the biggest cause of anxiety and depression, but how a person continues to replay such events over and over in their head determines the level of stress they experience – and can be a bigger cause of mental health problems than the actual event itself, say researchers. 

The University’s Institute of Psychology, Health and Society analysed the responses of over 32,000 participants, aged 18-85 years, who completed the BBC’s "Stress Test", an online survey to explore the causes and consequences of stress. 

The study – the biggest of its kind in the UK- found that traumatic life events were the single biggest determinant of anxiety and depression followed by a family history of mental illness and income and education levels. 

Relationship status and social factors made smaller – but still significant –contributions to stress.

However, the results revealed that a person’s thinking style was as much a factor in the level of anxiety and depression a person experienced. 

Peter Kinderman, professor in the Institute of Psychology, Health and Society, which led the research, said: “Depression and anxiety are not simple conditions and there is no single cause.  We wanted to find out more about what caused people to suffer from anxiety and depression and why some people suffered more than others."


The `Stress Test’, which was launched on BBC Radio 4’s `All in The Mind’ and available on the BBC website to complete, asked participants a range of questions about their family history of mental health problems, life events, income and education levels, relationship status and social circumstances. It also asked participants about how they responded to stressful situations, for example, did they talk to friends about their problems, did they turn to alcohol to reduce stress, did they blame themselves.  

Prof Kinderman added: “Whilst we can’t change a person’s family history or their life experiences, it is possible to help a person to change the way they think and to teach them positive coping strategies that can mitigate and reduce stress levels.” 

Mental health problems affect one person in every four, making it the leading cause of disability.  Its direct cost to England alone is £41.8 billion per annum but the wider costs to in terms of the economy, benefits, lost productivity at work, amounts to £77 billion per year. 

But let us not dwell on things.

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