What Is the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

The Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale is a rubric a health care provider can use to assess a patient's risk of stress-related illnesses. Patients can also use it as a self-assessment tool and may find it helpful for making decisions about treatment for stress. It is freely available online and through counseling offices, with both adult and non-adult versions in publication.

Patients who score above 250 on the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale have an elevated chance of stress-induced physical problems.
Patients who score above 250 on the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale have an elevated chance of stress-induced physical problems.

This tool was developed by doctors Richard Rahe and Thomas Holmes in the late 1960s. They knew that stress can contribute to the development of illness and wanted to understand how different life events can affect a person's health. They pulled together patient data as well as survey results from a variety of populations to develop a rubric that could apply to people from many different backgrounds. Initially the rubric was known as the Social Readjustment Rating Scale, but has since become generally known just as the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale.

People may use the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale as a helpful tool for making decisions about the treatment for stress.
People may use the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale as a helpful tool for making decisions about the treatment for stress.

The scale includes a list of more than 40 life events like changing careers, a death in the family, or breaking the law. Each event is assigned a numeric value in terms of how much impact it can have on a person's health. Losing a spouse has a score of 100, the most serious impact. A jail term scores 63, while going on vacation is a 13. A patient can go down the list to determine how many of these events he has experienced in recent months, and the total can be added to determine where he falls on the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale.

While a jail term might score 63 on the stress scale, going on vacation scores a much lower 13.
While a jail term might score 63 on the stress scale, going on vacation scores a much lower 13.

If the score is below 150, it suggests that the patient is not at very high risk for health problems related to stressful life events. Scores between 150 and 250 are a cause for concern, with an elevated risk. The patient may benefit from interventions like therapy and other forms of assistance. Scores above 250 indicate a high risk of developing illness.

The Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale for non-adults may be very useful for guidance counselors who work with youth.
The Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale for non-adults may be very useful for guidance counselors who work with youth.

The scale for non-adults focuses on life events that can occur in childhood and the teenage years, like leaving home for the first time, or a parent's job loss. This version of the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale can be of use for guidance counselors and other professionals who work with youth. They can use the scale to identify students and clients at risk of health complications because of stressful life events. The scale can also be helpful for developing appropriate interventions.

Patients with a high score on the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale may benefit from counseling.
Patients with a high score on the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale may benefit from counseling.
Stress has the potential of contributing to a variety of illnesses.
Stress has the potential of contributing to a variety of illnesses.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

Animandel

Many people questioned the results of the Holmes and Rahe stress study because the study group was not varied enough. However, I think the most important result of the research conducted by Holmes and Rahe, even more beneficial than their stress scale, was their conclusion that stress can lead to physical illnesses.

Today, the medical profession is more aware of the role of stress on physical health, and Holmes and Rahe are in some part responsible for that change in thought.

Laotionne
I have studied the Holmes and Rahe stress scale, and I have actually taken the test to determine my stress level. I think the rubric may have some use in the medical field, but I find the idea that we can measure how much stress an individual experiences related to a specific event far fetched.

We are all individuals and we react differently to life events even when the events are similar or the same event for that matter. You can't break down life events and assign them numbers, and expect the results to be scientific.

Sporkasia

The idea of measuring stress, and using the term stress to describe the tension people feel in their everyday lives was first introduced by Hans Seyle in the mid 20th century. His theories paved the way for the development of later stress scales such as the Holmes and Rahe scale.

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