Examining geographical and household variation in mental health in Australia

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Abstract

Objective

International research has failed to demonstrate area effects in the distribution of common mental disorders. In contrast, strong and robust household effects are evident, though relatively rarely examined. This study investigated household and area effects in the distribution of mental health scores using Australian data.

Method

Analysis of data from the first wave of the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia Survey: a large representative survey of 13 969 Australian adults. Multilevel regression methods were used to model variance in the mental health scale and mental component summary scale of the Short-Form 36 at the individual, household and area (Census Collection District) levels. A number of risk factors at various levels of the model were also examined.

Results

Very little variance in mental health scores occurred at the area level (1.5%), whereas significant and substantial variance occurred at the household level (23.0%). The variance at the household level remained highly significant following the inclusion of a range of risk factors at the individual, household and area levels.

Conclusions

The results confirm the absence of substantial area-level variation in mental health using Australian data. The findings highlight the importance of focusing on household-level characteristics in future research.

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