Well, it’s official – we’re more stressed since the recession hit. And your point is, I hear you ask? Of course times are tough, and we must expect to struggle. We’re stressed if we lose our jobs. Rather than heaving a sigh of relief if we still have a job to go to, those of us still working are stressed because we’re expected to do all our own work and that of the colleagues who have been laid off.
But the other results of the survey commissioned by Patient.co.uk give me, as a doctor, even more cause for concern. We all have different coping mechanisms for stress, and these results suggest they could spell very bad news for my patients’ health. The survey talks of 34% seeing fewer friends than they used to because they can’t afford to go out – I read this as a higher risk of social isolation, a major risk factor for depression. 33% of people have put on weight since the recession hit 2 years ago, often because of comfort eating – I worry about the long term risks of heart disease, diabetes and cancer connected with obesity. Even the 19% losing weight doesn’t reassure me – both reduced and increased appetite can be symptoms of depression. 1 in 5 have been eating unhealthier foods because they believe they’re cheaper – in my surgery, I see the hospital reports of heart attacks linked with high fat diets and lack of exercise on a daily basis.
We all need some stress to motivate us – but all too often it tips over into depression. 20% of the people in the survey are sleeping less well – another warning symptom of depression. If we fail to act on the early warning symptoms, depression can easily overwhelm us. A patient with mild depression can often benefit hugely from simple problem-solving strategies or computerised cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) in the comfort of their own homes. No time off and nobody at work needs to know. In major depression, even getting out of bed may require a monumental effort, and keeping up with a stressful job is unthinkable.
Of course while this is all going on, people are more likely to keep working when they’re unwell because they’re worried about losing their jobs, meaning they are also less likely to take time off to see a doctor. These days, there are many alternatives to making an appointment with your GP if you’re worried about your health. On my blog you can hear about all the options to decide what’s best for you, from learning about symptoms and conditions from patient information leaflets on Patient.co.uk, to booking telephone consultations in your coffee break at the office.