4817.0.55.001 - Information Paper: Use of the Kessler Psychological Distress Scale in ABS Health Surveys, Australia, 2007-08  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 04/04/2012   
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Contents >> Introduction

In Australia, mental health is a national health priority area, with one in five Australians experiencing a mental illness in a given year (ABS, 2007; Commonwealth of Australia, 2009). Under collaborative arrangements such as the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) National Action Plan on Mental Health and the National Mental Health Policy, the overarching vision and intent for the mental health system in Australia is one that:

      enables recovery, prevents and detects mental illness early and ensures that all Australians with a mental illness can access effective and appropriate treatment and community support to enable them to participate fully in the community. (Commonwealth of Australia, 2009)

To achieve this aim, the mental health of the population needs to be accurately measured at a range of levels, including at the population level. Where health providers and policymakers can accurately track prevalence rates of mental illness; access and barriers to mental health services; and social inclusion and participation rates of people with a mental illness, they can direct programs and policies most effectively.

One method of detecting a possible mental illness or quantifying the mental health and wellbeing of both individuals and the population is by measuring levels of psychological distress using the Kessler 10 (K10) psychological distress scale. The K10 is a scale designed to measure non-specific psychological distress, based on questions about negative emotional states experienced in the past 30 days. The K10 instrument is not a diagnostic tool, but an indicator of current psychological distress, where very high levels of distress may signify a need for professional help. It is also useful for estimating population need for mental health services.

This paper examines the use of the K10 in Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) and other surveys, looking at variation in scoring and categorising responses. The paper will also discuss the use of the Kessler 5 (K5) short form in ABS surveys, and notes other short form measures currently used for mental health screening, including the Kessler 6 (K6).

The paper presents selected demographic characteristics, risk factors, self-reported and diagnosed mental health conditions and self-assessed health by K10 results, using data from the 2007 Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing (SMHWB) and the 2007-08 National Health Survey (NHS).

All data are available electronically from the ‘download’ tab of this publication. In some cases, K10 survey data are also provided by alternative categorisation systems used in Australia by general practitioners (GPs) and mental health service providers.

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