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Thursday, 7 March, 2002, 01:08 GMT
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Frequent business travel can affect those left at home
Frequent business trips abroad could leave the "home alone" spouse with more than an aching heart, research suggests.

A study by the American-based World Bank indicates that spouses left at home are much more likely to come down with mental health problems than those whose partners do not travel.

Their level of stress-related and psychological problems was three times as high.

woman ironing
Life at home can seem a lot more mundane than business travel

The researchers say their findings reveal just how delicate the home/life balance has become - with frequent travel demands affecting both worker and spouse.

Researchers looked at the medical insurance claims made by spouses of World Bank employees over a 12-month period.

They found that 16% more claims came from those whose spouses frequently travelled abroad.

Twice as many people whose spouses spent time away cited psychological problems than those whose partners stayed at home.

When the business trips overseas reached four or more, the number of claims made by spouses for psychological stress and related disorders tripled.

Women outnumbered men in terms of numbers of claims made by two to one - but more business travellers were men.

Disruption

The authors suggest repeated, intermittent trips away seemed to have a worse effect on people than longer but more infrequent separations.

This is because short frequent absences were more likely to disrupt family life and destroy the chance to establish routines.

One of the authors, Dr Lennart Dimberg, said: "It is beginning to be understood that the boundary between the workplace and the home is permeable."


It's when partners are shut out on a limb that that the anxiety grows and relationships can start to break down

Elaine Douglas, psychologist

He said earlier research showed business travellers themselves suffered increased rates of mental health problems.

Elaine Douglas, a chartered psychologist who works on the Isle of Man, said the strain on spouses is down to the lack of control.

She said: "It's not as if the spouse can say 'I don't want you to go,' because it is their partner's job.

"The person on the business trip can get the buzz of going off somewhere - there's no frisson of excitement in doing the mundane things at home.

"Keeping in touch by telephone or e-mail is not the same, the spouse is left to make all the day-to-day decisions by themselves."

Ms Douglas suggested that companies should think about giving discounted travel to spouses so that they could accompany their partner on some trips.

The research is included in the current edition of the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

See also:

04 Oct 01 | Health
Mental problems 'hit one in four'
09 Jul 01 | Health
Boost for mental health care
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