The Psychometric Properties of the Kessler Psychological Distress Scale (K6) in a General Population Sample of Adolescents

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Abstract

The 6-item Kessler Psychological Distress Scale (K6; Kessler et al., 2002) is a screener for psychological distress that has robust psychometric properties among adults. Given that a significant proportion of adolescents experience mental illness, there is a need for measures that accurately and reliably screen for mental disorders in this age group. This study examined the psychometric properties of the K6 in a large general population sample of adolescents (N = 4,434; mean age = 13.5 years; 44.6% male). Factor analyses were conducted to examine the dimensionality of the K6 in adolescents and to investigate sex-based measurement invariance. This study also evaluated the K6 as a predictor of scores on the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ; Goodman, 1997). The K6 demonstrated high levels of internal consistency, with the 6 items loading primarily on 1 factor. Consistent with previous research, females reported higher mean levels of psychological distress when compared with males. The identification of sex-based measurement noninvariance in the item thresholds indicated that these mean differences most likely represented reporting bias in the K6 items rather than true differences in the underlying psychological distress construct. The K6 was a fair to good predictor of abnormal scores on the SDQ, but predictive utility was relatively low among males. Future research needs to focus on refining and augmenting the K6 scale to maximize its utility in adolescents.

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