Open Access Research article

Social support and age influence distress outcomes differentially across urban, regional and remote Australia: an exploratory study

Joanne Allen1*, Kerry J Inder12, Terry J Lewin1, John Attia23 and Brian J Kelly1

Author Affiliations

1 Centre for Translational Neuroscience and Mental Health, University of Newcastle and Hunter New England Health, Newcastle, NSW, Australia

2 Hunter Medical Research Institute, Newcastle, Australia

3 Centre for Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, University of Newcastle and Hunter New England Health, Newcastle, NSW, Australia

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Public Health 2012, 12:928  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-12-928

Published: 30 October 2012



The variation of determinants of mental health with remoteness has rarely been directly examined. The current research aims to examine whether the association of psychosocial factors with psychological distress outcomes varies with increasing remoteness.


Participants were persons aged 55 and over from two community cohorts sampling from across rural and urban New South Wales (N = 4219; mean age = 69.00 years; 46.1% male). Measures of social support from these studies were calibrated to facilitate comparison across the sample. Remoteness was assessed using a continuous measure, the Accessibility/Remoteness Index of Australia. The association between demographic characteristics, social support, remoteness, and their interactions with remoteness in the prediction of high psychological distress (cut-off > 21 on the Kessler 10) were examined using logistic regression.


Not being in a married or defacto relationship (OR 0.69; 99% CI 0.51-0.94), lower education (OR 0.52; 99% CI 0.38-0.71) and decreased social support (OR 0.36; 99% CI 0.31-0.42) significantly predicted psychological distress. There was a significant interaction of age and remoteness (OR 0.84; 99% CI 0.67-1.00), indicating that as remoteness increases, older persons are less likely to be highly distressed, as well as a significant interaction of social support and remoteness (OR 1.22; 99% CI 1.04-1.44), indicating that as remoteness decreases, persons with low levels of social support are more likely to be highly distressed.


Remoteness may moderate the influence of social support and age on psychological distress outcomes.

Rural health; Psychological distress; Social support; Aged 55 and over