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Journal Article

Specific symptoms of the General Health Questionnaire (GHQ) in predicting persistence of psychological distress: data from two prospective cohort studies


Publication date

12 Nov 2020


Persistent psychological distress is more harmful than transient psychological distress, but little is known about the development of persistent distress. We examined whether some specific symptoms of the 12-item General Health Questionnaire (GHQ-12) were more important than others in predicting the persistence of psychological distress over a 3-year follow-up period among individuals who had at least moderate psychological distress at baseline (GHQ≥3). Participants were from the UK Household Longitudinal Study (UKHLS; n=6,430) and British Household Panel Survey (BHPS; n=5,954). Sense of worthlessness, loss of self-confidence, loss of sleep over worry, and feelings of strain were associated with increasingly persistent distress. General happiness, feelings of unhappiness or depressed mood, and enjoyment of activities showed no such increasing associations. Symptoms of social functioning (capability of making decisions, concentration problems, feelings of usefulness, ability to face problems) showed some but not consistent associations. These results suggest that feelings of worthlessness, loss of self-confidence, loss of sleep over worry, and strain may be particularly important markers for persistent psychological distress.

Published in

Journal of Psychiatric Research





Psychology, Psychiatry, Well Being, Health, and Surveys


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