Frequent Mental Distress

Lower income closely tied to more mental distress for adults

Frequent mental distress is defined as experiencing stress, depression, or problems with emotions for at least 14 out of the past 30 days. Experiencing this level of distress can indicate clinical depression and anxiety disorders, serious health conditions that have a negative impact on quality of life. Overall in King County from 2011-2015, an average of 10% of adults experienced this degree of distress.

  • Income: The proportion of people with frequent mental distress decreased as income increased. People in households making less than $15,000 per year were over four times more likely to have frequent distress than those in households making $75,000 per year or more (26% and  6%, respectively).

  • Sexual orientation: At 19%, lesbian, gay, and bisexual respondents were almost twice as likely as the King County average to have frequent mental distress.

  • Age: Those age 65 and older (6%) were less likely than younger adults to have frequent mental distress.

  • Gender: Women were more likely than men to have frequent mental distress (12% and 9%, respectively).

  • Race and ethnicity: Asians were less likely than King County residents overall to have frequent mental distress, at 6%. Hispanic/Latinos, on the other hand, were more likely, at 15%.

  • Region: At 8%, residents of East King County were less likely than residents of North Region and Seattle (11% each) or South Region (12%) to have frequent mental distress.

  • Trends: The percent of people who have frequent mental distress has been stable in King County from 2000 to 2015. Among Hispanic/Latinos, however, rates of distress decreased from 2000-2005, and then increased from 2005-2015 to very near the 2000 level.



Notes and Sources

Source: Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) (2011-2015)

Numerator: People who responded 14 or more days to the question: “Now thinking about your mental health, which includes stress, depression, and problems with emotions, for how many days during the past 30 days was your mental health not good?”

Denominator: All respondents who answered the question.

Measuring mental health:

Because measuring mental health in the population in all its dimensions is challenging, researchers have developed different measures that use answers to questions on anonymous population surveys. Information on two related measures are given below:

 Poor mental health days: According to the County Health Rankings and Roadmaps[hyperlink], “Frequent mental distress is a corollary measure to poor mental health days. It provides a slightly different picture that emphasizes those who are experiencing more chronic and likely severe mental health issues.” Information on poor mental health days in King County can be found [link to rankings data here:]

Serious psychological distress: Another indicator of mental health is serious psychological distress, which measures adults who had high scores on a scale of how often they felt nervous, hopeless, restless, depressed, worthless, or that everything was an effort. In King County, serious psychological distress shows the same patterns across age and income as frequent mental distress, with older people and people with higher incomes being less likely to experience distress. You can view results for King County here. Alternatively, select the “Related data” tab in the visualization above, then select “Serious psychological distress” from the drop-down menu.

The Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System collects information on the health and safety of Washington residents aged 18 and older. Every year, the Washington State Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conduct the survey primarily through telephone interviews, including landline and cellphone numbers. To learn more about the survey, please go to:


Related Links:
Back to Health Data