4363.0 - National Health Survey: Users' Guide, 2017-18  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 30/04/2019   
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Kessler Psychological Distress Scale-10 (K10)


Mental health is fundamental to the wellbeing of individuals, their families and the population as a whole. One indication of the mental health and wellbeing of a population is provided by measuring levels of psychological distress using the Kessler Psychological Distress Scale - 10 (K10). The K10 questionnaire was developed to yield a global measure of psychosocial distress, based on questions about people's level of nervousness, agitation, psychological fatigue and depression in the past four weeks.[1]


Information was obtained for all persons aged 18 years and over in the NHS who were either answering for them self or were relaying answers to the proxy.


This topic was collected within the Mental Wellbeing module.

The Kessler Psychological Distress Scale -10 (K10) is a scale of non-specific psychological distress. It was developed by Professors Ron Kessler and Dan Mroczek, as a short dimensional measure of non-specific psychological distress in the anxiety-depression spectrum, for use in the US National Health Interview Survey.

The 10 item questionnaire yields a measure of psychological distress based on questions about negative emotional states (with different degrees of severity) experienced in the 4 weeks prior to interview. For each question, there is a five-level response scale based on the amount of time that a respondent experienced those particular feelings. The response options are:

    • None of the time
    • A little of the time
    • Some of the time
    • Most of the time
    • All of the time.

Each of the items are scored from 1 for 'none' to 5 for 'all of the time'. Scores for the ten items are summed, yielding a minimum possible score of 10 and a maximum possible score of 50, with low scores indicating low levels of psychological distress and high scores indicating high levels of psychological distress.

K10 results are commonly grouped for output. Results are grouped into the following four levels of psychological distress:
    • Low (scores of 10-15, indicating little or no psychological distress)
    • Moderate (scores of 16-21)
    • High (scores of 22-29)
    • Very high (scores of 30-50).

Based on research from other population studies, a very high level of psychological distress shown by the K10 may indicate a need for professional help.

In Australia, national level information on psychological distress using the K10 was first collected in the Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing (SMHWB) conducted by the ABS in 1997 and later in 2007. The K10 was included in NHS consistently since 2001 as it proved to be a better predictor of depression and anxiety disorders than the other short, general measures used in the 1997 SMHWB. For further information about ABS use of the instrument, refer to Use of the Kessler Psychological Distress Scale in ABS surveys (cat. no. 4817.0.55.001).

Data items

The questionnaire, data items and related output categories for this topic are available in pdf / Excel spreadsheet format from the Downloads page of this product.


Points to be considered in interpreting data for this topic include the following:
    • Those respondents incapable of being present for the interview due to illness or disability, and who were represented by a proxy, were recorded as being 'Not asked' for the Kessler Psychological Distress Scale-10 questions. In 2017-18, 4.0% of respondents aged 18 years and over were not asked these questions.

Comparability with 2014-15

The data are considered directly comparable between 2014-15 and 2017-18. Users should note that the version of K10 used in the NHS is slightly different to that used in the Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing (see information paper Kessler Psychological Distress Scale, in Other Scales and Measures, National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing: Users' Guide, 2007 (cat. no. 4327.0)).

In 2017-18 and 2014-15 NHS an additional screening question was asked to determine whether there were any days in the last 4 weeks when the respondent had difficulty managing work, study or their day to day activities because of these feelings before they were asked on how many days this occurred.

More information regarding comparisons between 2014-15 NHS and previous cycles is available in the National Health Survey: Users' Guide, 2014-15 (cat. no. 4363.0)

1. Coombs, T., 2005, ‘Australian Mental Health Outcomes and Classification Network; Kessler -10 Training Manual’, NSW Institute of Psychiatry.