Open Access Research article

Self-reported stressors among patients with Exhaustion Disorder: an exploratory study of patient records

Karin Hasselberg, Ingibjörg H Jonsdottir, Susanne Ellbin and Katrin Skagert*

Author Affiliations

The Institute of Stress Medicine, Carl Skottsbergs gata 22B, SE 413 19 Gothenburg, Sweden

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BMC Psychiatry 2014, 14:66  doi:10.1186/1471-244X-14-66

Published: 5 March 2014



Several researchers imply that both work-related and non-work-related stress exposure are likely to contribute to stress-related mental illness. Yet empirical studies investigating both domains seem to be limited, particularly in a clinical population. The purpose of this study was to a) explore which stressors (non-work and work-related) are reported as important for the onset of illness by patients seeking medical care for stress-related exhaustion and b) explore the prevalence of each stressor and examine whether the pattern differs between men and women.


This is an exploratory mixed method study, comprising patients at a specialist outpatient stress clinic. Information from medical records of 20 patients was initially used in a first qualitative step to construct the instrument, using a combination of a conventional content analysis and a directed content analysis. In the second phase patient records from 50 men and 50 women were selected and coded in accordance with the coding instrument. Frequency statistics were calculated for all stressors.


A total of 24 categories of stressors (11 related to work and 13 related to private life) were identified in the first qualitative step. A median of four stressors, usually both work and non-work-related was reported by the patients. The most common stressors were 1) quantitative demands at work, 2) private relational conflicts and 3) emotional demands at work.


Work demands are, by far, the most prevalent stressor, followed by relational problems in private life. The pattern was similar for women and men, with a slight difference in the distribution between work and non-work stressors. Men and women also show similar patterns when comparing the occurrence of each stressor. Slight differences were seen, in particular with regard to managerial responsibility that was reported by 6% of the women compared to 36% of the men. One important practical implication of this study is that patients with stress-related exhaustion often have a long period of impaired ability at work. Successful prevention at the workplace is thus of great importance. However, it is equally important to discuss how society can support individuals such as single parents or couples with relational conflicts.

Burnout; Exhaustion; Stressors; Non-work stressors; Work stressors; Mixed methods