Distribution of psychological distress is stable in recent decades and follows an exponential pattern in the US population

Sci Rep. 2019 Aug 19;9(1):11982. doi: 10.1038/s41598-019-47322-1.


The prevalence of psychological distress is fairly stable in industrialised countries in recent decades, but the reasons for this stability remain unknown. To investigate the mechanisms underlying stability of psychological distress in the general population of the United States, we analysed the mathematical patterns of the distribution of psychological distress in recent decades. The present study utilised the Kessler psychological distress scale (K6) data from the 1997‒2017 United States National Health Interview Survey. We used overlap coefficients and graphical analysis to investigate the stability and mathematical patterns of the K6 distribution. Overlap coefficients and graphical analysis demonstrated that the distribution of K6 total scores was stable in the United States over the past two decades. Furthermore, the distributions of K6 total scores exhibited an exponential pattern, with the exception of the lower end of the distribution. These findings suggest that the lack of change in the prevalence of psychological distress over several decades is due to the stability of psychological distress distribution itself. Furthermore, the stability of the distribution of psychological distress over time may be linked to the exponential pattern of psychological distress distribution.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers
  • Depression / diagnosis
  • Depression / epidemiology
  • Depression / physiopathology
  • Depression / psychology
  • Female
  • History, 21st Century
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prevalence
  • Psychological Distress*
  • Public Health Surveillance
  • Stress, Psychological / diagnosis
  • Stress, Psychological / epidemiology*
  • Stress, Psychological / history
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology
  • United States / epidemiology


  • Biomarkers