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Adults with Serious Psychological Distress in California

2008 | Download

Understanding mental illnesses is an important component of disease prevention and health promotion. Mental illnesses are associated with disability and account for 15 percent of the overall burden of disease from all causes of global disease. There is strong evidence that mental illnesses are related to physical illnesses. And according to the Global Burden of Disease study, four mental illnesses are among the top 10 causes of disability worldwide: major depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. 

Understanding the prevalence of mental illness and the characteristics of persons with and without mental illness are necessary for developing treatment and prevention policies for the country and for specific areas of the country. The 2007 California Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) included the K6 scale to estimate persons with serious psychological distress (SPD). This scale of nonspecific psychological distress was designed as a short screening scale to identify persons with a high likelihood of a mental illness.

Read the brief. 

The BRFSS results show that psychological health is associated with socio-demographic characteristics and perceived physical health. Specifically, adults with lower socio-economic status such as less education and under the Federal Poverty Limit were more likely to have serious psychological distress. These outcomes also point out that mental heath is strongly correlated with physical health.


This brief was prepared by the California Department of Public Health, Cancer Surveillance and Research Branch, and the Survey Research Group at the Public Health Institute.

BRFSS is an ongoing effort by the California Department of Public Health, in conjunction with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Public Health Institute, to assess the prevalence of and trends in health-related behaviors in the California population aged 18 years and older.