Are men being nagged to death by their wives? A research report, allegedly suggesting just that, generated lots of headlines this month. But it’s not that simple.
The research from the University of Copenhagen looked at responses from almost 10,000 men and women who were asked whether they were subjected to excessive demands, serious worry or conflicts with a variety of people in their everyday lives. These included partners, their children, other relatives, friends and neighbours.
The researchers concluded that stressful social relations were associated with increased mortality risk, and that “those outside the labour force, and men, seem especially vulnerable to exposure”.
These findings are serious enough in themselves, and they certainly warrant awareness of the effects of stress on people in general and on those who are unemployed.
Greater risk Within this, the study found that men who were exposed to high levels of worrries, demands and conflicts had a greater risk of dying than women who experienced low levels of the same.
This led to the headlines about women nagging men to death.
But as the NHS Choices website – which does a great job of analysing the research that we in the media get excited about – pointed out, that's not comparing like with like.
“It is unclear exactly why the researchers performed this comparison, rather than comparing men with low levels of worries and demands to men with high levels; as the saying goes, it’s like comparing apples with oranges.”
This peculiar comparison certainly renders the conclusion that women nag men to death to be completely unwarranted.
The study also found that women exposed to frequent conflict had a higher risk of dying than women who had low levels of conflict with their partner. That seems to have been missed in some of the headlines.
What’s useful in the study is the restatement of the fact that if people are put under sustained stress, then the risk of dying (in the study in an 11-year follow-up period) is increased.
That is worth knowing even though it isn’t particularly new as a finding.
As NHS Choices puts it, “the harmful effects of sustained stress over a long period of time on both mental and physical health are well established”.
What this and other research suggests is that the lives of people in extremely stressful conditions can be shortened by these conditions.
That's what we need to reflect on and do something about. ME and chronic fatigue Numbness, intermittent paralysis, and difficulty in thinking clearly are among the symptoms that the 10,000 or so Irish people who are believed to be affected by myalgic encephalomyelitis, also known as chronic fatigue syndrome, can experience.
That’s according to the Irish ME/CFS Association, which is nearing the end of a month of awareness of this wretched condition.
There is no known cure for the condition and the treatments that help some sufferers do not necessarily help others.
That people with ME are sometimes regarded with scepticism can only make their situation worse. One of the aims of the association is to bring home the awareness that ME/CFS is very real and debilitating.
It affects not only the person who has the condition but also, of course, that person’s family.
“The person with ME/CFS needs belief that they have a real illness,” says the association. “They need not only physical help and support, but also emotional, with a lot of tender loving care and understanding, as they come to terms with accepting their illness and adapting to a whole new lifestyle.”
That adaptation must be extremely difficult, especially for people who formerly had very busy lifestyles.
One woman with CFS wrote in the Galway Independent recently that the condition "robs patients' lives, it stuffs all we were once able to do into the bin of dreams, sealing it tightly, so we forget what our past felt like".
You can read her story at bit.ly/CFSGalway. See irishmecfs.org
Padraig O'Morain is a counsellor accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy and the author of Mindfulness on the Go: Peace in your Pocket. His mindfulness newsletter is free by email.