K10 and K6 Scales
The K10 and K6 scales were developed with support from the U.S. government's National Center for Health Statistics for use in the redesigned U.S. National Health Interview Survey (NHIS). As described in more detail in Kessler et al. (2003), the scales were designed to be sensitive around the threshold for the clinically significant range of the distribution of nonspecific distress in an effort to maximize the ability to discriminate cases of serious mental illness (SMI) from non-cases. A small validation study carried out in a convenience sample in Boston found evidence that the scales perform quite well and that, in fact, the six-question scale is at least as sensitive as the ten-question scale for the purpose of discriminating between cases and non-cases of SMI. The K6 is now included in the core of the NHIS as well as in the annual National Household Survey on Drug Abuse. The K10 is in the Australian and Canadian equivalents of the NHIS. The K10 is also included in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication (NCS-R) as well as in all the national surveys in the World Mental Health (WMH) Initiative. We plan to refine the calibration rules for the scales based on analysis of data in these surveys. At the moment, though, the only calibration data come from the Boston validation study. This web site will post information on expanded calibration as these data become available.

Two versions of the scales are presented here, one for interviewer-administration and the other for self-administration. Note that the K6 is merely a truncated form of the K10 in which four questions are deleted. The question series presented here include not only the six or ten Likert scale questions in the scales, but also a number of other questions that we routinely administer along with the scales to learn about persistence and impairment. These additional questions are not required to score the K6 or K10.

Permission requests

Use of the K6 and K10 is free and does not require any formal permission or approval. We do ask that you please cite the below article and include the copyright when using these scales. In addition, we would appreciate it if you would send us the citations to all final publications that use the K6/K10.

Kessler, R.C., Barker, P.R., Colpe, L.J., Epstein, J.F., Gfroerer, J.C., Hiripi, E., Howes, M.J, Normand, S-L.T., Manderscheid, R.W., Walters, E.E., Zaslavsky, A.M. (2003). Screening for serious mental illness in the general population. Archives of General Psychiatry, 60(2), 184-189.

Copyright © Ronald C. Kessler, PhD. All rights reserved.

The translations of the K6 and K10 are posted for unrestricted use, with the same requirement to acknowledge the copyright and cite the above article.

Scoring Rules: click here.

For a comprehensive list of articles on the K10 and K6, click here.

All versions of the K6 and K10 are available for download on our website.
Self-Administered (English)
Interviewer-administered (English) Interviewer-administered (English)

Translated versions of the K6/K10 instruments:
Chinese (Cantonese)
Not available*
Chinese (Mandarin)
Not available*
Not available*
Not available*
Not available*
Not available*
Not available*
Not available*
Not available*
Portuguese (for use in Brazil)
Not available*
Spanish (for use in Spain)
Spanish (for use in Americas)
Not available*
Not available*
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Not available*

*Not yet translated in this language.

Additional translations are available on these websites below. Please note that these have not been approved as official WHMH translations.



Below are six methodological papers that have, so far, been written about the K6 and K10.

Furukawa, T.A., Kessler, R.C., Slade, T., 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. 33:357-362.

Kessler, R.C., Barker, P.R., Colpe, L.J., Epstein, J.F., Gfroerer, J.C., Hiripi, E., Howes, M.J, Normand, S-L.T., Manderscheid, R.W., Walters, E.E., Zaslavsky, A.M. (2003). Screening for serious mental illness in the general population Archives of General Psychiatry. 60(2), 184-189

Kessler, R.C., Andrews, G., Colpe, L.J., Hiripi, E., Mroczek, D.K., Normand, S.-L.T., Walters, E.E., & Zaslavsky, A. (2002). Short screening scales to monitor population prevalances and trends in nonspecific psychological distress. Psychological Medicine. 32(6), 959-976.

Green, J.G., Gruber, M.J., Sampson, N.A., Zaslavsky, A.M., Kessler, R.C. (2010). Improving the K6 short scale to predict serious emotional disturbance in adolescents in the USA. International Journal of Methods in Psychiatric Research 19(S1), 23-35.

Kessler, R.C., Green, J.G., Gruber, M.J., Sampson, N.A., Bromet, E., Cuitan, M., Furukawa, T.A., Gureje, O., Hinkov, H., Hu, C.Y., Lara, C., Lee, S., Mneimneh, Z., Myer, L., Oakley-Browne, M., Posada-Villa, J., Sagar, R., Viana, M.C., 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 19(S1), 4-22. Erratum in International Journal of Methods in Psychiatric Research 2011 Mar;20(1):62.

Are you interested in translating and using the K10/K6 in a language other than English?

Researchers and clinicians from a number of countries have contacted us about translating and validating the K10/6 in their languages. We will post each such translation on our web page when we receive it along with an acknowledgement to the person or persons who made the translation and a citation to any publication that reports the results of the validation. This memo provides a brief overview of requirements for acceptable translations and validations.

I. Translation

The 10 questions in the basic form of the K10 are included in the World Mental Health surveys. These surveys are being carried out in 30 countries around the world and the interview schedule is being translated into 35 different languages. Some, but not all, of the collaborators in the WMH surveys are also translating the K10/K6 self-administration forms into these same languages. We are posting these versions as they become available. For those of you who are interested in translating the K10/6 self-administration forms into your language, we are using the WHO translation protocol for all official K10/K6 translations. Please write and ask us for this protocol. We can then tell you if we already have another group working on a translation in your language and, if not, we can discuss with you a time line for your translation.

II. Validation

K10/K6 validations are being done in primary care clinics, community mental health centers, and social welfare offices. The validation standards differ in each case, but our preference is for validation to be based on a semi-structured research diagnostic interview, such as the SCID, and to have a sufficient number of respondents validated to have the statistical power needed for evaluation. A minimal design would be to carry out a clinical evaluation of 50 people who have a positive K6 score (10 or more on the 0-24 scale) and 50 who have a score in the range 0-9, although larger numbers would be better. The clinical re-interview should be carried out within 2 days of the K6 to make sure respondents are referring to the same 30-day recall period. Clinical interviewers should be blinded to K6 scores. Psychometric analyses of operating characteristics should be based on weighted data that adjust for the over-sampling of K6 positives in the sampling of clinical reappraisal respondents. This weighting is critical, as estimates of sensitivity, specificity, and AUU would be biased in the absence of weighting.

To contact us about K10/K6 translation and validation, email ronkadm@hcp.med.harvard.edu.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. Has the scale been used in surveys of racial and ethnic populations?

The K10 has been used in the World Mental Health (WMH) surveys. WMH includes surveys of over 166,000 people in 30 countries throughout the world. Calibration of K6/K10 scores to clinical assessments is currently being carried out and results will be posted when they become available. In the US, a number of studies are using the K6 or the K10 in studies of minority samples.

Q. How does the scale work in minority populations?

Scale properties are stable in minority sub-samples of our large surveys.

Q. Has this scale been translated into languages other than English? 

Yes, see http://www.hcp.med.harvard.edu/ncs/k6_scales.php.

Q. We note that asking clients about the 'last 4 weeks' may prevent us from identifying change in distress over the course of a brief intervention (i.e. 4-6 weeks). Will it cause significant issues when interpreting scores if we changed the wording to 'in the last 7 days' for each item?

Changing the wording to 'in the last 7 days' is ok and should not cause significant issues in interpreting scores.

Q. Have you ever used the CDC measure of "frequent mental distress (FMD)" derived from the question "Thinking about your mental health, for how many days during the past 30 days was your mental health not good?" in the same survey where K-6 questions are used? If yes, to which extent may FMD and psychological distress overlay? Do they measure different things?

The FMD question has a much more skewed distribution than the K6 or K10 and should only be used when you are interested in fleshing out the top 1-2% of the population. The K6 is best to use when you want to look at serious mental illness (about 5-8% of the population). The K6 was not designed to distinguish the top 1-2% from the rest of the population. If you want to have sensitivity throughout the severity range, you can use the K6 or K10 along with the FMD question. Remember, though, that in order to have adequate statistical power for substantive analysis of the top 1-2% of the population, you need a very large sample.

Q: A question has been raised by several colleagues about the likelihood of seriously ill persons who are being successfully treated (manic depressives with lithium, for example) being picked up by the K6. How do we handle this problem?

A: Symptom screening scales miss people who are successfully treated. It takes much more extensive instruments to find people who have, say, bipolar disorder, but who are being successfully treated. A quick thing you might want to do if you want to know this stuff in a rough and ready way: You can ask people if they are in treatment and, if so, you can ask them to think about the month before treatment and to tell you how they would respond to the K10/K6 questions for that month. Note that this approach will only expand your assessment to include people who might have high distress right now were it not for current treatment (e.g., taking their lithium every day). You will not pick up people with a history of SMI who are currently doing well without treatment.