Psychological distress in rural Australia: regional variation and the role of family functioning and social support

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Journal Article
Journal of Public Health (Germany), 2014, 22 (6), pp. 481 - 488
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© 2014, Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg. Aim: Regional variation in the prevalence of mental disorders and particularly variation in the role of risk and protective factors has received limited research attention. This study investigates variation in the prevalence of significant psychological distress across regions, and quantifies the relative impact of family functioning and social support. Subject and method: Multilevel analysis of data from the longitudinal Australian Rural Mental Health Study, comprising a stratified random sample from non-metropolitan New South Wales. Distress was assessed using the Kessler-10. The analysis considered clustering within households and across geographic regions based on Local Government Areas and collapsed to represent residence in inner regional, outer regional, remote and very remote locations. Results: There was limited clustering of psychological distress within areas (0.4 %). However, the household accounted for almost 45 % of the variance in psychological distress, and the salience of the household was greater in more remote regions (33.1 % in inner regional to 60.5 % in very remote areas). Family functioning and perceived social support were associated with increased risk of psychological distress, but explained only a modest amount of variance in mental health at household level. After controlling for individual and family/social covariates, 34.5 % of the remaining variance in psychological distress was observed at the household level. Conclusion: The findings suggest that individuals in remote locations are more reliant on their family/confidants for their mental health than those in more populated areas. Future research will consider whether this simply reflects differences in the accessibility of formal health services or broader social and cultural differences.
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