Department of Family and Community Services

2.1 Psychological distress

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High rates of self-reported psychological distress, people aged 16 years and over

Current position

11.7 percent of NSW women reported high or very high levels of psychological distress in 2011 compared to 9.0 percent of men.

Gender gap

  • Women are more likely to report high levels of psychological distress than men – a gender gap of 2.7 percentage points in 2011.
The direction of change over time

The 2.7 percent gender gap in high psychological distress was the same in 2011 as in 2010. The gap is slightly narrower than in 1997 when 3.8 percentage points separated women and men.

Overall women’s rates of high psychological distress have remained stable through the 2000s.

However, the rate for young women (who report higher rates than other women) has declined since 2002 when the rate was 18.5 percent (see Figure 2.2). In 2011, young women’s rate of high psychological distress (15.5 percent) was three percentage points higher than young men’s (12.2 percent), a similar gender gap to that between women and men of all ages.

Discussion

While overall, women report higher rates of psychological distress than men, there is also significant variation within the female population. Immigrant women from non-English speaking countries and lower socio-economic status women report higher rates of distress, both at 13.5 percent or nearly two percentage points higher than the average (see Table 2.4).

Older women report the lowest rates. Women aged 65 to 75 years experience high psychological distress at a rate of 7.1 percent, and women aged 75 years and over report at a rate of 6.1 percent (compared to the average for NSW women of 11.7 percent) (data not shown).

The Australian Health Survey 2011-12 found a larger but comparable gender gap (4.0 percent) for the prevalence of high or very high psychological distress among NSW women and men. This survey uses a similar methodology to the NSW Adult Population Health Survey but has slightly a different population (see Figure 2.2).

It found 12.4 percent of women and 8.4 percent of men reported high or very high psychological distress.

This indicator is based on people reporting high or very high psychological distress in the last four weeks through the use of a Kessler 10 Plus Psychological Distress Scale. This is a subgroup of all people with mental disorders. The Kessler 10 Plus questionnaire is used by NSW Health to assess anxiety, depression, agitation and psychological fatigue, and the effect of the distress.

The NSW Adult Population Health Survey population is people 16 years and over. The Australian Health Survey also uses the Kessler 10 distress scale. It surveys people aged 18 and over.


Year collected: 2011 and preceding years.
Data source: NSW Adult Population Survey (SAPHaRI). Centre for Epidemiology and Evidence, NSW Ministry of Health.
More information is available at www.healthstats.nsw.gov.au

Figure 2.2 Women experiencing high psychological distress by selected age group, 2011

Fig 2.2

Note: Self-reported experience of high or very high psychological distress in the last four weeks.
Population: NSW women in selected age groups.
Source: NSW Adult Population Health Survey (SAPHaRI). Centre for Epidemiology and Evidence, NSW Ministry of Health.

Table 2.4 Psychological distress by population group, NSW women, 2011

Population group  Women % 
Birthplace 
Australia 

11.5

Other English speaking country 

9

Non-English speaking country 

13.5

Socio-economic status 
Least disadvantaged (first quintile) 

10.7

Middle level of disadvantage (third quintile) 

12.1

Most disadvantaged (fifth quintile) 

13.5

Remoteness from service centres 
Major cities 

12.5

Inner regional areas 

11

Outer regional and remote areas 

8.9

Note: The indicator is self-reported experience of high or very high psychological distress in the last four weeks. Socio-economic status is based on the geographical area where people live and uses the ABS Index of Relative Socio-economic Disadvantage (IRSD). Remoteness is based on road distance to major service centres based on the ABS Accessibility/Remoteness Index of Australia (ARIA).

Population: Women aged 16 and over.
Source: Centre for Epidemiology and Evidence. Health Statistics New South Wales.