Findings: Love-lorn hit by trauma

April 5, 2002

Breaking up is never easy. But a study by psychologists at Plymouth and Wolverhampton universities suggests that the broken-hearted can share common post-traumatic stress symptoms with air- crash survivors and the victims of assault, writes Steve Farrar.

Their research showed that many suffer physically and mentally as a result of the experience.

Man Cheung Chung, principal lecturer at Plymouth's psychology department, and colleagues, interviewed 60 heterosexual subjects who had split with a partner in the previous two years.

They were assessed against the impact of event scale (IES), a standard tool used to measure the distress caused by a particular incident. Their general health was also tested, as well as their level of self-esteem and personality.

Dr Chung, who has previously focused on the post-traumatic stress experienced by survivors of air and rail disasters, found that 72 per cent of the subjects gained IES scores that indicated they had suffered severe trauma associated with the end of their relationship.

Forty-three per cent of the group were found to suffer psychological and physical symptoms, such as clinical depression and anxiety, at levels commensurate with psychiatric cases.

Dr Chung said that the study did not indicate that the individuals were suffering post-traumatic stress disorder as such.

However, he added that there was a significant correlation between poor general health and breaking up, and that personality factors such as neuroticism and low self-esteem played a role.

The findings are published in the journal Stress and Health .

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