Background: The National Survey of Mental Health and Well-being in Australia has provided a rare opportunity to investigate not only the sociodemographic distribution of well-being, but also how it is related to impaired mental or physical health, to specific groups of psychiatric disorders and disability in daily life.
Methods: A national household sample of 10,641 individuals (response rate 78 %) representative of the adult population was interviewed with the Composite International Diagnostic Interview and completed scales measuring recent symptoms, disablement and well-being. The latter was measured by the single item Life Satisfaction Scale of Andrews and Withey (1976) expressed as percentage, with 100 % being "delighted".
Results: The mean score for the Australian adult population was 70.4 % (95 % CI 70.0, 70.8), which matches the proposed universal norm. Men and women had very similar mean scores. Well-being was higher in persons with tertiary education and in those owning or purchasing their homes. It was lower in persons with physical or mental disorders, particularly depression. For alcohol use, a U-shaped relationship was found, whereby well-being was lower both in abstainers and in heavy users. Multiple regression analysis showed that when adjustment is made for confounders, women had higher life satisfaction than men and that high life satisfaction became less common with age in men, but even more so in women. Life satisfaction was impaired for respondents with high psychological distress, especially in the unemployed, the divorced and those with tertiary education, whether or not their symptoms led to a CIDI-A diagnosis of depression.
Conclusion: The correlates of well-being are essentially in the expected direction. Depressive disorder has a stronger association with low well-being than other psychiatric diagnoses. Of particular interest is the existence of a small number of persons with current anxiety or depressive disorders who report having high life satisfaction. This deserves further investigation.