"We were somewhat surprised to see the differences over geographic areas in levels of frequent mental distress," Zack said. "They were fairly substantial differences."
The data, which was also broken down by county, was collected as part of the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System.
Reasons for the differences in emotional distress and stress levels might include socioeconomic disparities and levels of chronic illnesses, such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes, Zack said.
States that tended to have higher rates of mental distress are also those with higher rates of poverty, which can lead to financial strain, poorer health and less access to doctors and mental health services.
Although the recession had not yet hit when the surveys used in the study were last taken, Zach speculated that stress levels may have already been increasing, with workers feeling more pressure to produce and rising health-care costs leading some to put off seeking medical or mental health care.
Joshua Klapow, an associate professor of psychology and public health at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, said the study results were not surprising.
"What this speaks to is that psychological distress is quite prevalent and that rates tend to be higher in states with the poorest health status and the lowest socioeconomic status," Klapow said.
However, he said, the research says little about the degree of the psychological distress, such as how many people have a diagnosable mental health problem such as bipolar or anxiety disorder versus how many are just feeling upset because of financial worry, a marital breakup or a transitory issue.
"One of the problems with the study is that it's very limited in the inferences we can draw about the causes of the stress," Klapow said.'/>"/>
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