As part of the commitment to promoting community mental health awareness and psychological wellbeing, for the third successive year the APS commissioned a stress and wellbeing survey of a representative sample of the Australian adult population. The survey examined the levels of stress and wellbeing as well as the experience of stress, including the causes of stress, its impact and methods of managing it. The survey this year also included a special focus on working Australians. The APS Stress and Wellbeing Survey 2013 repeated some questions from the previous years’ surveys to enable a year-by-year comparison. The survey findings were released during National Psychology Week and generated widespread media coverage.

KEY SURVEY FINDINGS

  • In 2013, Australians reported significantly lower levels of wellbeing and significantly higher levels of stress and distress than in 2012 and 2011.
  • Almost three-quarters of Australians reported that stress was having an impact on their physical health.
  • In 2013, significantly more Australians (65%) reported that current stress was affecting their mental health than in 2012 (60%).
  • Finances continued to rank as the top cause of stress for Australians, followed by family and health issues.
  • One in four Australians reported mental health issues as a source of stress.
  • Significantly more Australians reported visiting social networking sites, eating or sleeping more to manage stress than in previous years.
  • Working Australians reported significantly lower overall workplace wellbeing in 2013 compared with findings in previous years.
  • Working Australians reported significantly lower levels of job satisfaction and significantly lower levels of interest in their jobs than in the previous year.
  • Generally, working women were significantly more likely than working men to report that they felt valued and supported to do their job.
  • Women were significantly more likely than men to report feeling involved in their job.

How stressed are Australians?

In 2013, Australians reported feeling more stressed and distressed than in the previous two years, with younger adults reporting significantly higher levels of stress and distress compared with older Australians. Overall, a substantial number of Australians (26%) reported experiencing severe levels of distress this year, significantly more than in previous years (see Table 1).

Table 1. Mean scores on measures of stress, distress and wellbeing for 2013, 2012 and 2011

  2011 2012 2013
Stress (K-10 score) 17.94* 18.4* 19.45
Distress (PSS total score) 15.53* 15.51* 16.43
Wellbeing (WEMWBS score) 49.11*  47.65* 46.78 


*Statistically significant (p<.05)

Levels of wellbeing

In 2013, Australians reported significantly lower levels of wellbeing compared with findings from 2012 and 2011 (see Table 1). However, older Australians (66-75 years old) reported significantly higher levels of wellbeing compared with younger Australians, particularly the 18-25 age group. There were no differences between males and females on levels of wellbeing.

Experience of depressive and anxiety symptoms

In 2013, Australians reported significantly higher levels of depressive and anxiety symptoms than in the previous two years.

  • 14% of Australians reported depressive symptoms in the severe to extremely severe range.
  • 12% of Australians reported anxiety symptoms in the severe to extremely severe range.
  • Younger adults continued to report significantly higher levels of depressive and anxiety symptoms compared with older Australians.
  • Unemployed Australians and students (18 years and over) reported the highest level of depressive and anxiety symptoms.

Causes of stress

Overall, personal financial issues were the leading cause of stress for Australians, followed by family issues, personal health issues and issues with trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

  • 52% of respondents named financial issues as a cause of stress
  • 47% named family issues
  • 43% named personal health issues
  • 41% named trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle
  • 38% named concern over the health of others
  • 34% named issues in the workplace
  • 24% named mental health issues

Impact of stress

Almost three-quarters of Australians (73%) reported that current stress was having at least some impact on their physical health, with almost one in five (17%) reporting that current stress was having a strong to very strong impact on their physical health.

In 2013, significantly more Australians than in 2012 reported that current stress was having at least some impact on their mental health (2013: 65%; 2012: 60%). One in five people (20%) reported that current stress  was having a strong  to very strong  impact on their mental health.

Ways of managing stress

Significantly more Australians reported visiting social networking sites to manage stress than in previous years (2013: 49%; 2012: 41%; 2011: 37%). Eating or sleeping more to manage stress was also reported by more Australians in 2013 than in previous years.

Watching TV or movies was the most popular activity for managing stress (88%). Spending time with family and friends (82%), listening to music (81%), focusing on the positives (81%) and reading (77%) were also popular methods of managing stress.

Help seeking for managing stress

The most likely sources for seeking help were family (28%), friends (27%) and general practitioners (21%). Sixteen per cent of Australians reported seeking help from psychologists or other mental health professionals for assistance in managing stress.

APS stress survey generates substantial media interest

The APS media campaign focused on the workplace stress findings, which struck a chord with media outlets across Australia. A number of different story angles featured in news reports highlighting different aspects of the survey, including the rise in workplace stress, methods people use to manage stress, and the finding that young people are the most stressed. Media publicity arising from the campaign captured important messages about the need to manage stress before it becomes too debilitating, including strategies for managing stress and the role of psychologists in stress management, as well as identifying the APS as a source of credible research and expertise. 

Over 730 media pieces across print (at least 25), online (at least 200), TV (at least 5) and radio (an estimated 500) were achieved, more than double the previous high of last year.

An animated stress tips video released via social media further increased the reach of the message and provided access to advice about managing stress to a wider audience. The video and key findings from the campaign were posted to the National Psychology Week Facebook page and tweeted via Twitter.

Media highlights

  • More than 500 radio stations across Australia (community radio stations, commercial radio and ABC radio) downloaded pre-recorded news grabs of Professor Lyn Littlefield for broadcast in news stories across Sunday 10 November and Monday 11 November.
  • Print stories ran in major newspapers including the Sydney Morning Herald, the West Australian, the Herald Sun, the Adelaide Advertiser, the Sunday Telegraph, the Sunday Tasmanian, the Mercury, the Sun-Herald and the Northern Territory News.
  • Rural and regional publications featured APS survey stories including the Ballarat Courier, the Warranambool Standard, the Sunraysia Daily, North Lismore News, the Observer, Fraser Coast Chronicle, the Bendigo Advertiser, the Border Mail and the Advocate.
  • Stories also ran on the news websites of major outlets, including News.com.au, 9News.msn, ntnews.com.au, brisbanetimes.com.au, thewest.com.au, themercury.com.au, ABC news online, yahoo!7 news online, the Telegraph online and the Herald Sun online.
  • The survey was covered on television in regional and metropolitan areas including on news bulletins on Weekend Sunrise (Channel 7), Channel 7 news, Channel 10 news, Sky News Australia and Prime 7 across regional areas.
  • Targeted business stories about the workplace findings have run in Smart Company online, also syndicated in their newsletter, Business Insider and Business Review Weekly. Future stories are expected to run in publications including HR Monthly, HR Report, and In the black.

 

STRESS IN THE WORKPLACE

Working Australians reported significantly lower levels of overall workplace wellbeing and job satisfaction than in the previous two years, as well as significantly lower levels of interest in their job than in 2012.

Working Australians also reported significantly higher levels of stress and distress than in the previous two years, and significantly higher levels of depressive and anxiety symptoms.

Overall, nearly half (47%) of working Australians reported workplace issues as a source of stress.

Psychological health at work

Working Australians were asked about a number of workplace factors that have been shown to support psychological health in the workplace. These workplace factors included supportive leadership, feeling valued and cared for, receiving feedback and recognition, and working in an environment where safety was prioritised and where support for family issues was provided.

Working Australians who positively experienced these workplace factors (that is, those who reported that they agreed or strongly agreed with the workplace factor statements) reported significantly higher levels of wellbeing, lower levels of stress and distress, and lower levels of depressive and anxiety symptoms than working Australians who did not positively experience these workplace factors.

  • Almost 85% of working Australians reported they were clear about what was expected of them at work
  • 67% reported feeling very involved in their job
  • 60% reported having sufficient opportunities for learning and development
  • 70% reported that their employer was serious about safety at work
  • 62% reported that their employer supported staff with physical injuries

In contrast:

  • 52% reported that their employer valued their contribution and cared about their wellbeing
  • 46% reported that they receive regular relevant feedback and recognition for their work
  • 50% reported their employer supported staff with mental health issues

Gender differences among working Australians

  • 57% of working women reported that their employers valued their work contribution and cared about their wellbeing at work compared to 47% of men.
  • 67% of working women reported that their immediate managers were available to help them when they needed support to do their job compared to 53% of men.
  • Working women were significantly more likely than men to report that their employers were supportive of family matters (female: 70%; male: 61%).
  • Working women were significantly more likely to report feeling involved in their jobs than men (female: 71%; male: 63%).

About the APS Stress and Wellbeing in Australia Survey 2013

The survey was conducted in August 2013, with 1,548 Australian adults taking part including a sub-sample of 999 working Australians. The survey sample was representative of the Australian adult population (18 years and over) for age, gender, geographical location and work status (matched on Australian Bureau of Statistics data).

The online survey made use of standardised measures of stress, wellbeing, anxiety and depression. As well as questions investigating sources of stress, strategies for addressing it and service utilisation, stress and wellbeing levels were assessed using the following established psychological measures:

  • The Perceived Stress Scale (PSS)
  • Kessler Psychological Distress Scale (K-10)
  • Warwick Edinburgh Mental Well-Being Score (WEMWBS)
  • Depression, Anxiety and Stress Scale (DASS)
  • The Workplace sub-scale of the National Accounts of Well-being Survey.

The APS Stress and Wellbeing in Australia Survey project is guided by an expert panel of APS members and the host university is Swinburne University, Melbourne.

The full report on the APS Stress and Wellbeing Survey 2013 for National Psychology Week can be found on the APS website at www.psychology.org.au/NPW/survey/

Dr Lynne Casey MAPS, Executive Manager Communications and Rachel Pui-Tak Liang, Project Officer
APS National Office

InPsych December 2013