Psychological distress

Information sheet 11 - Kessler Psychological Distress Scale– 6 items (K6)

Name of the instrument

Kessler Psychological Distress Scale



Number of items


Terms of use

Public domain. The source must be mentioned (Kessler et al., 2003).


English, French

Data collection method

Self-report questionnaire, in hard copy, in person or by telephone.

Target population

Adolescents and adults

Interpretation of the results and thresholds

  • The items are ranked on a five-point scale. The maximum score is 24.
  • A score equal to or greater than 13 indicates the probability of a serious mental illness. A score below 13 indicates that a serious mental illness is unlikely.
  • The other thresholds differ from study to study but several use a score of 8 to 12 to indicate moderate distress. The results in the CCHS and the QPHS are presented by quintile.

Is the questionnaire available in the toolkit?

Yes, see Questionnaire 8

Other versions

The long version has 10 items (K10).


  • Furukawa, T. A., Kessler, R. C., Slade, T. and Andrews, G. (2003). The performance of the K6 and K10 screening scales for psychological distress in the Australian National Survey of Mental Health and Well-Being. Psychological Medicine, 33(2), 357-362.
  • Kessler, R. C., Barker, P. R., Colpe, L. J., Epstein, J. F., Gfroerer, J. C., Hiripi, E., … Zaslavsky, A. M. (2003). Screening for serious mental illness in the general population. Archives of General Psychiatry, 60(2), 184-189. Consulted at
  • Kessler, R. C., Green, J. G., Colpe, Mr. Chetboun J., Epstein, N. A., Gfroerer, J. C., Hiripi, Mr. Chetboun, … Zaslavsky, A. M. (2010). Screening for serious mental illness in the general population with the K6 screening scale: results from the WHO World Mental Health (WMH) survey initiative. International Journal of Methods in Psychiatric Research, 2, 4-22.
  • National Comorbidity Survey (undated). K10 and K6 Scales. Consulted at