Latest release

Mental health and experiences of homelessness methodology

Reference period
2014
Released
1/06/2020
Next release Unknown
First release

Explanatory notes

Introduction

1 This publication presents data on people who reported experiencing homelessness in the past, by whether or not they reported having a mental health condition, compiled from the 2014 General Social Survey (GSS). The survey collected information about personal and household characteristics for people aged 15 years and over resident in private dwellings across Australia (excluding very remote and people living in discrete Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities), from March to June 2014.

2 The 2014 GSS collected data on a range of social dimensions from the same individual to enable analysis of the interrelationships in social circumstances and outcomes, including the exploration of multiple advantage and disadvantage experienced by that individual.

3 A full list of the data items from the 2014 GSS is available in the 4159.0 – General Social Survey: Summary Results, Australia, Data downloads section.

Scope of the survey

4 Only people who were usual residents of private dwellings in Australia were covered by the GSS. Private dwellings are houses, flats, home units and any other structures used as private places of residence at the time of the survey. People who usually reside in non-private dwellings such as hotels, motels, hostels, hospitals and short-stay caravan parks were not included in the survey. Usual residents are those who usually live in a particular dwelling and regard it as their own or main home. Visitors to private dwellings are not included in the interview for that dwelling. However, if they are a usual resident of another dwelling that is in the scope of the survey, they have a chance of being selected in the survey or, if not selected, they will be represented by similar persons who are selected in the survey.

5 The GSS was conducted in both urban and rural areas in all states and territories, except for very remote parts of Australia and discrete Indigenous communities. This exclusion is unlikely to impact on national estimates, and will only have a minor impact on any aggregate estimates that are produced for individual states and territories, except the Northern Territory where the excluded population accounts for over 20% of persons.

6 The Australian population at June 2014, after exclusion of people living in non-private dwellings, very remote areas of Australia and discrete Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities was 22,828,900, of which 18,463,700 were aged 15 years and over.

7 The following people were excluded from resident population estimates used to benchmark the survey results, and were not interviewed:

  • diplomatic personnel of overseas governments
  • members of non-Australian defence forces (and their dependants) stationed in Australia
  • persons whose usual place of residence was outside Australia
  • visitors
  • persons living in very remote areas
  • persons living in discrete Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
     

Sample design

8 The GSS was designed to provide reliable estimates at the national level and for each State and Territory. The sample was therefore spread across the states and territories in order to produce estimates that have a relative standard error (RSE) of no greater than 10% for characteristics that are relatively common in the national population (that at least 10% of the population would possess).

9 For the 2014 cycle, in order to be consistent with the aim of exploring the relative outcomes of people more vulnerable to socio-economic disadvantage, the sampling methodology was adapted to target sample from low socio-economic areas. People in these areas had a higher probability of being selected in the sample. Households were then randomly selected from each selected area to participate in the survey.

10 The initial sample for the survey consisted of approximately 18,574 private dwellings. This number was reduced to approximately 16,145 dwellings due to the loss of households which had no residents in scope for the survey and where dwellings proved to be vacant, under construction or derelict. Of the eligible dwellings, 80.1% responded fully (or adequately) which yielded a total sample from the survey of 12,932 dwellings.

11 Some survey respondents provided most of the required information, but were unable or unwilling to provide a response to certain data items. The records for these persons were retained in the sample and the missing values were recorded as 'don't know or not stated'. No attempt was made to deduce or impute for these missing values.

Data collection

12 ABS Interviewers conducted personal interviews using a Computer Assisted Interviewing (CAI) questionnaire at selected dwellings during the period March to June 2014. CAI involves the use of a notebook computer to record, store, manipulate and transmit the data collected during interviews.

13 Much of the detail obtained from the GSS was provided by one person aged 15 years or over, randomly selected from each participating household. The random selection of this person was made once basic information had been obtained about all household members. Some financial and housing items collected in the GSS required the selected person to answer on behalf of other members of the household. In some cases, particularly where household information was not known by the selected person, a spokesperson for the household was nominated to provide household information.

Weighting, benchmarking and estimation

Weighting

14 Weighting is the process of adjusting results from a sample survey to infer results for the total in-scope population whether that be persons or households. To do this, a 'weight' is allocated to each sample unit i.e. a person or a household. The weight is a value which indicates how many population units are represented by the sample unit. 

15 The first step in calculating weights for each person or household is to assign an initial weight, which is equal to the inverse of the probability of being selected in the survey. For example, if the probability of a person being selected in the survey was 1 in 600, then the person would have an initial weight of 600 (that is, they represent 600 people).

Benchmarking

16 The initial weights are then calibrated to align with independent estimates of the population of interest, referred to as 'benchmarks'. Weights calibrated against population benchmarks ensure that the survey estimates conform to the independently estimated distribution of the population rather than to the distribution within the sample itself. Calibration to population benchmarks helps to compensate for over or under-enumeration of particular categories of persons which may occur due to either the random nature of sampling or non-response. 

17 The GSS was benchmarked to the in scope estimated resident population (ERP) and the estimated number of households in the population. The 2014 GSS used population and household benchmarks based on the 2011 Census.

18 Given that the GSS did some targeting towards low socio-economic areas, further analysis was undertaken to ascertain whether benchmark variables, in addition to geography, age, and sex, should be incorporated into the weighting strategy. Analysis showed that the standard weighting approach did not adequately compensate for differential undercoverage in the 2014 GSS sample for SEIFA, when compared to other ABS surveys. As this variable was considered to have possible association with social characteristics, an additional benchmark was incorporated into the weighting process.

19 The benchmarks used in the calibration of final weights for the 2014 GSS were:

Persons

  • state by part of state by age by sex
  • SEIFA.
     

Households

  • state by part of state by household composition
  • SEIFA.
     

Estimation

20 Survey estimates of counts of persons are obtained by summing the weights of persons or households with the characteristic of interest. Estimates for means, such as mean age of persons, are obtained by summing the weights of persons in each category (e.g. individual ages), multiplying by the value for each category, aggregating the results across categories, then dividing by the sum of the weights for all persons. 

21 The majority of estimates shown in this publication are based on benchmarked person weights.

22 For more information about the collection of the data, please refer to the Explanatory Notes of General Social Survey: Summary Results, Australia, 2014.

Interpretation of results

23 Care has been taken to ensure that the results of this survey are as accurate as possible. All interviews were conducted by trained ABS Interviewers. Extensive reference material was developed for use in the field enumeration and intensive training was provided to interviewers in both classroom and on-the-job environments. There remain, however, other factors which may have affected the reliability of results, and for which no specific adjustments can be made. The following factors should be considered when interpreting these estimates:

  • Information recorded in this survey is essentially 'as reported' by respondents, and hence may differ from information available from other sources or collected using different methodologies. Responses may be affected by imperfect recall or individual interpretation of survey questions.
  • Some respondents may have provided responses that they felt were expected, rather than those that accurately reflected their own situation. Every effort has been made to minimise such bias through the development and use of culturally appropriate survey methodology.
     

Mental health

24 GSS relies on self-reporting of diagnosed mental health conditions. That is, people who reported they had ever been told by a doctor or nurse that they have a mental health condition that has lasted or is expected to last 6 months or more. While not providing a prevalence measure, information obtained is valuable for comparing population characteristics of people with/without a mental health condition within the particular survey in which it has been used. Mental health conditions such as depression or feeling depressed, feeling anxious or nervous, behavioural and emotional disorders, problems learning or understanding things or dependence on drugs or alcohol were included.

25 The Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing (SMHWB) is the best ABS source of information on the prevalence of mental health conditions in Australians aged 16-85 years. The SMHWB is different from other surveys collecting mental health data because it does not rely on self-reporting. Rather, it uses diagnostic assessment criteria to assess the lifetime, and 12-month prevalence, of selected mental disorders through the measurement of symptoms and their impact on day to day activities. The survey was based on a widely used international survey instrument (World Mental Health Survey Initiative version of the World Health Organization Composite International Diagnostic Interview, version 3.0), but tailored for the Australian context.

Homelessness

26 Homelessness in this publication refers to whether a person has ever previously been without a 'permanent place to live' for reasons other than one (or more) of the following: saving money; work related reasons; building or renovating their home; travelling/on holiday; house-sitting or having just moved back to a town or city. People who had ever previously been without a permanent place to live for other reasons (e.g. family/relationship breakdowns, financial problems, tight rental/property markets etc.) were counted in the survey as having had an experience of homelessness.

27 As the GSS only enumerates usual residents of private dwellings, it will not include: people currently living in shelters; people sleeping rough; people 'couch surfing' (staying temporarily with other households); nor people staying in boarding houses. It may include some people staying in Transitional Housing Management (THM) properties, if the adult staying there at the time of the survey considered that it was their usual residence at that time (THMs have been included in researcher estimates of the homeless). The GSS does not attempt to measure the prevalence of homelessness in Australia. Instead the survey sought information about a person's previous experience of being without a permanent place to live. That is, whether a person has ever experienced being without a permanent place to live at some point in their lives.

28 The statistics presented in this publication on episodes of homelessness differ from counts in the 2011 Census of Population and Housing. See Census of Population and Housing: Estimating homelessness, 2011 for more information.

Classifications

29 Occupation data were classified according to the Australian ANZSCO - Australian and New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations, 2013, Version 1.2 (cat. no. 1220.0).

30 Area data (Capital city, Balance of state/territory; Remoteness areas) are classified according to the Australian Statistical Geography Standard (ASGS).

31 Education data were classified according to the Australian Standard Classification of Education, 2001 (cat. no. 1272.0)

Acknowledgements

32 ABS publications draw extensively on information provided freely by individuals, businesses, government and other organisations. Their continued cooperation is very much appreciated; without it, the wide range of statistics published by the ABS would not be available. Information received by the ABS is treated in strict confidence as required by the Census and Statistics Act 1905.

Glossary

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Age

The age of a person on their last birthday.

Homelessness

Refers to whether a person has ever previously been without a 'permanent place to live' for reasons other than one (or more) of the following: saving money; work related reasons; building or renovating their home; travelling/on holiday; house-sitting or having just moved back to a town or city. People who had ever previously been without a permanent place to live for other reasons (e.g. family/relationship breakdowns, financial problems, tight rental/property markets etc.) were counted in the survey as having had an experience of homelessness.

As the GSS only enumerates usual residents of private dwellings, it will not include: people currently living in shelters; people sleeping rough; people 'couch surfing' (staying temporarily with other households); nor people staying in boarding houses. It may include some people staying in Transitional Housing Management (THM) properties, if the adult staying there at the time of the survey considered that it was their usual residence at that time (THMs have been included in researcher estimates of the homeless). The GSS does not attempt to measure the prevalence of homelessness in Australia. Instead the survey sought information about a person's previous experience of being without a permanent place to live. That is, whether a person has ever experienced being without a permanent place to live at some point in their lives.

Index of Relative Socio-economic Disadvantage

This is one of four Socio-economic Indexes for Areas (SEIFA) compiled by ABS following each Census of Population and Housing. The indexes are compiled from various characteristics of persons resident in particular areas: the Index of Relative Socio-economic Disadvantage summarises attributes such as low income, low educational attainment, high unemployment and jobs in relatively unskilled occupations. A lower Index of Relative Socio-economic Disadvantage quintile (e.g. the first quintile) indicates relatively greater disadvantage and a lack of advantage in general. A higher Index of Relative Socio-economic Disadvantage (e.g. the fifth quintile) indicates a relative lack of disadvantage and greater advantage in general.

Labour force status

Refers to the situation of respondents in relation to the labour force at the time of the survey. Categories are:

  • employed - had a job or business, or undertook work without pay in a family business in the week prior to the survey, including being absent from a job or business they had full-time - persons who usually work 35 hours or more per week
  • part-time - persons who usually work at least one hour, but less than 35 hours, per week
  • unemployed - not employed and actively looked for work in the four weeks prior to the survey and available to start work in the week prior to the survey
  • not in the labour force
  • retired from work - persons over the age of 44 years who were no longer working and did not intend to work in the future
  • other - other persons who were not employed, unemployed or retired. Includes persons who intend to look for full-time work, intend to look for part time work, or have never worked for two weeks or more and never intend to work. Such persons may be voluntarily inactive such as carers, students or be permanently unable to work.
     

Level of highest educational attainment

Education data were classified according to the Australian Standard Classification of Education, 2001 (cat. no. 1272.0).

Level of highest educational attainment was derived from information on highest year of school completed and level of highest non-school qualification. The derivation process determines which of the 'non-school' or 'school' attainments will be regarded as the highest. Usually the higher ranking attainment is self-evident, but in some cases some secondary education is regarded, for the purposes of obtaining a single measure, as higher than some certificate level attainments. The 2010 GSS treated those respondents who had completed a lower level certificate as having a higher qualification than Year 10. This was different for the 2014 GSS, where Year 10 was treated as having a higher qualification than a lower level certificate.

Long-term health condition

A long-term health condition is a current disease or disorder that has lasted, or is likely to last, for six months or more. The exception to this is a periodic or episodic condition (e.g. asthma, epilepsy or schizophrenia, where people suffer attacks or relapses at irregular intervals) where the attack or relapse has occurred in the last 12 months. If the condition has not occurred within the last 12 months because it has been controlled by medication, it should still be recorded. Respondents might still be experiencing limitations or restrictions due to these conditions (or due to the medication itself), even though they have not had an attack or a relapse for quite a while. Conditions or restrictions which are expected but not yet apparent should not be included (e.g. in young children where they are still too young to show). NOTE: This data item was self-reported by the respondent.

Mental health condition

This data item refers to clinically recognised emotional and behavioural disorders, and perceived mental health problems such as feeling depressed, feeling anxious, stress and sadness. NOTE: This data item was self-reported by the respondent.

Mental health conditions such as depression, feeling depressed, behavioural and emotional disorders, and feeling anxious were included.

Multiple response

A multiple response category allows respondents to choose more than one answer to a question.

Permanent place to live

For the purposes of the GSS, a permanent place to live was left up to the respondent's interpretation. However, if the respondent sought clarification it was defined as a usual address which consists of a self-contained residence i.e. the respondent had their own kitchen, bathroom and entrance, and some sort of security of tenure.

Remoteness areas

Broad geographical regions that share common characteristics of remoteness based on the Remoteness Structure of the ABS's Australian Statistical Geographical Standard. In this publication, the categories Major Cities of Australia, and Inner Regional Australia from the Remoteness Structure are presented along with a residual category labelled 'Other areas'. As the GSS did not cover very remote areas of Australia, 'Other Areas', encompasses Outer Regional Australia and Remote Australia.

Socio-Economic Indexes for Areas (SEIFA)

SEIFA is a product developed especially for those interested in the assessment of the welfare of Australian communities. The ABS has developed four indexes to allow ranking of regions/areas, providing a method of determining the level of social and economic wellbeing in each region.

Each of the indexes summarise different aspects of the socio-economic status of the people living in those areas. The index refers to the attributes of the area in which a person lives, not to the socio-economic situation of a particular individual. The index used in this publication was compiled following the 2011 Census. For further information about the SEIFAs, see Information Paper: Census of Population and Housing - Socio-Economic Indexes for Areas, Australia (cat. no. 2039.0).

The four indexes are: 

  • Index of relative socio-economic advantage and disadvantage: includes attributes such as households with low incomes and people with a tertiary education.
  • Index of relative socio-economic disadvantage: includes attributes such as low income, low educational attainment, high unemployment and dwellings without motor vehicles.
  • Index of economic resources: includes attributes such as income, housing expenditure and assets of households
  • Index of education and occupation: includes attributes relating to the educational and occupational characteristics of communities, like the proportion of people with a higher qualification or those employed in a skilled occupation
     

Unpaid assistance to persons living outside the household

Provided any of the following types of help to persons living outside the household: 

  • domestic work, home maintenance or gardening
  • providing transport or running errands
  • any unpaid child care
  • any teaching, coaching or practical advice
  • providing any emotional support
  • any other help.



For further definitions refer to the Glossary of General Social Survey: Summary Results, Australia, 2014.