Prevalence and correlates of psychological distress in a large and diverse public sector workforce: Baseline results from Partnering Healthy@Work

Lisa Jarman, Angela Martin, Alison Venn, Petr Otahal, Roscoe Taylor, Brook Teale, Kristy Sanderson

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18 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Depressive and anxiety disorders are common among working adults and costly to employers and individuals. Mental health screening is often an important initial strategy, but the resultant data are often of unknown representativeness and difficult to interpret. In a public sector workforce, this study used a brief screener for depression/anxiety to: a) compare prevalence of high psychological distress obtained from a researcher survey with an employer survey and population norms and b) verify whether expected correlates were observed in a screening setting. Methods. Participants were public servants working for an Australian state government. High psychological distress (Kessler-10 ≥22) stratified by age and sex was compared for a random weighted sample researcher survey (n = 3406) and an anonymous volunteer employer survey (n = 7715). Prevalence ratios (PR) were estimated from log binomial regression. Results: Referencing the researcher survey, prevalence of high psychological distress was greater by age and sex in the employer survey but was only dependably higher for men when compared with population norms. Modelling suggested this may be due to work stress (effort-reward imbalance) (PR = 3.19, 95% CI 1.45-7.01) and casual/fixed-term employment (PR 2.64, 95% CI 1.26-5.56). Conclusions: Depression and anxiety screening using typical employer survey methods could overestimate prevalence but expected correlates are observed in a screening setting. Guidance for employers on screening and interpretation should be provided to encourage engagement with mental health prevention and treatment programs in the workplace.

Original languageEnglish
Article number125
JournalBMC Public Health
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 6 Feb 2014


  • Correlates
  • Health risk appraisal
  • K10
  • Prevalence
  • Psychological distress
  • Public sector
  • Workplace

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