Depression Anxiety Stress Scales – Youth Version (DASS-Y)



The Depression Anxiety Stress Scales – Youth version (DASS-Y) is a version of the DASS-21 for youth aged 7 – 18 years of age designed to measure the negative emotional states of depression, anxiety and stress . While the three symptom clusters measured by the DASS-Y share many characteristics with each other (i.e. general psychological distress), the DASS-Y emphasises the specific symptoms unique to each in order to better discriminate between depression, anxiety and stress, and thereby producing more independent subscales. The DASS-Y is suitable for clinical settings to assess for symptoms of psychological distress and to monitor the course of those systems over time. In non-clinical settings the DASS-Y is useful as as a mental health screening questionnaire. The DASS-Y is based on a dimensional rather than a categorical conception of psychological problems, and scores emphasise the degree to which someone is experiencing symptoms rather than having diagnostic cutoff points. It is a useful tool for routine outcome monitoring and can be used to assess the level of treatment response.

Validity and Reliability
The DASS-Y was developed using a large sample of responses from 2,121 Australian students aged 7-18 (61% female). Confirmatory Factor Analysis was performed on a calibration group (half the sample) to test the 3-factor DASS model on 40 items previously developed in exploratory studies. The best-performing 21 items based on both statistical and theoretical considerations were then selected, guided by the structure and item content of the adult DASS. Responses were then cross-validated in the second half of the sample. Results indicated good fit for the final 21-item 3-factor DASS model in both groups of children and adolescents (Szabo & Lovibond, 2022). Multiple regression analyses showed that when scores on the other DASS-Y scales were held constant, the Depression scale had a strong negative relationship with positive affect and life satisfaction, the Anxiety scale was strongly associated with physiological hyperarousal, and the Stress scale was associated with excessive worrying. However, the relationship between Stress and worrying was only evident from age 10 onwards (Szabo & Lovibond, 2022). To assess the typical pattern of responding among young people, data was collected from a sample of primary school (aged 7 to 12, n=826) and high school (aged 13 to 18, n=1288) students, with the means and standard deviations split by age and gender and reported by Szabo and Lovibond (2022). Of note, significant gender differences were found in high school age students, whereby males reported lower overall scores, particularly on the stress subscale. The authors note that “due to systematic differences between the school groups, such differences need to be interpreted with caution.”

Scores are presented as a total score (between 0 and 63) and a score for the three subscales (between 0 and 21). In addition, percentiles for subscales are computed comparing results to age and gender related peers (Szabo & Lovibond, 2022). Percentiles help contextualise scores in relation to age and gender relevant sample, whereby a percentile of 50 indicates the respondent scored at an average (and healthy) level compared to typical peers (shown by a dotted line on the graph). Higher percentiles indicate more symptoms, with a percentiles above 90, for example, indicating clinically significant psychological distress with more reported symptoms than 90 percent of peers. Each of the three DASS-Y scales contains 7 items: Depression: dysphoria, hopelessness, devaluation of life, self-deprecation, lack of interest / involvement, anhedonia and inertia. (Items 3, 5, 10, 13, 16, 17, 21) Anxiety: autonomic arousal, skeletal muscle effects, situational anxiety, and subjective experience of anxious affect. (Items 2, 4, 7, 9, 15, 19, 20) Stress: levels of chronic nonspecific arousal, difficulty relaxing, nervous arousal, and being easily upset / agitated, irritable / over-reactive and impatient. (Items 1, 6, 8, 11, 12, 14, 18) A graph is produced on first administration showing percentiles compared to age related peers. When the DASS-Y is administered on two or more occasions the graph demonstrates the change in symptoms over time. Given the dimensional nature of psychological distress it is useful to consider even small changes in symptoms over time.

Szabo, M., & Lovibond, P. F. (2022). Development and Psychometric Properties of the DASS-Youth (DASS-Y): An Extension of the Depression Anxiety Stress Scales (DASS) to Adolescents and Children. Frontiers in Psychology, 13, 766890.

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