Psychological distress in carers of Aboriginal children in urban New South Wales: findings from SEARCH (phase one)

Anna B Williamson, Catherine A D’Este, Kathleen F Clapham, Sandra J Eades, Sally Redman and Beverley Raphael
Med J Aust 2016; 205 (1): 27-32. || doi: 10.5694/mja16.00111


Objective: To examine the factors associated with psychological distress in parents and carers of Aboriginal children living in urban communities in New South Wales.

Design: Cross-sectional survey (phase one of the Study of Environment on Aboriginal Resilience and Child Health [SEARCH], November 2007 – December 2011).

Setting and participants: Primary care; 589 parents and carers of Aboriginal children were recruited when attending one of the four Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services (ACCHSs) in urban NSW that participated in SEARCH.

Main outcome measure: Kessler Psychological Distress Scale (K10) scores; a score of 22 or higher was deemed to indicate high levels of psychological distress.

Results: High levels of psychological distress were identified in 18% of our sample. The factors most strongly associated with this distress were functional limitations (v those with K10 scores under 22: adjusted odds ratio [aOR], 4.2; 95% CI, 1.3–13.5), previous hospitalisation (aOR, 5.5; 95% CI, 1.5–19.4) or other treatment for social and emotional wellbeing (aOR, 3.3; 95% CI, 1.3–8.4), low satisfaction with feeling part of the community (aOR, 0.83; 95% CI, 0.70–0.98) and low involvement in clubs and groups (aOR, 2.9; 95% CI, 1.2–7.3).

Conclusions: Clinicians should note that those with functional limitations or a history of treatment for mental health problems are at higher risk of psychological distress and may require additional support. Increased funding that allows ACCHSs to provide mental health services, and funding and promoting programs and activities that increase social connectedness should remain focuses for ACCHSs and policy makers.

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  • Anna B Williamson1
  • Catherine A D’Este2,3
  • Kathleen F Clapham3,4
  • Sandra J Eades1,5
  • Sally Redman1
  • Beverley Raphael6

  • 1 Sax Institute, Sydney, NSW
  • 2 National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health, Australian National University, Canberra, ACT
  • 3 Australian Health Services Research Institute, University of Wollongong, Wollongong, NSW
  • 4 George Institute for Global Health, Sydney, ACT
  • 5 Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute, Melbourne, VIC
  • 6 Australian National University, Canberra, ACT


We thank the study participants, their communities and the staff at participating Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations. SEARCH is funded by the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council (grant numbers 358457, APP1035378, APP1023998), an Australian Primary Health Care Research Institute Centre for Research Excellence grant, the Rio Tinto Aboriginal Foundation, and the Centre for Aboriginal Health (in the NSW Department of Health). Anna Williamson holds an NHMRC Public Health (Australia) Training Fellowship (510 391).

Competing interests:

No relevant disclosures.

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