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Common mental health and emotional and behavioural disorders among adolescents and young adults in Harare and Mashonaland East, Zimbabwe: a population-based prevalence study

BMJ Open. 2023 Mar 14;13(3):e065276. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2022-065276.


OBJECTIVES: To estimate the prevalence of common mental health disorders (CMDs) and emotional and behavioural disorders among young people and to explore the correlates of CMDs risk.

SETTING: Five urban and periurban communities in Harare and Mashonaland East, Zimbabwe DESIGN: Population-based cross-sectional study PARTICIPANTS: Young people aged 13-24 years living in households in the study areas.

OUTCOME MEASURES: The primary outcome was the proportion of participants screening positive for probable CMDs defined as a Shona Symptoms Questionnaire (SSQ) score ≥8. Secondary outcomes were emotional and behavioural disorders measured using the Strength and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ), and adjusted ORs for factors associated with CMD.

RESULTS: Out of 634 young people, 37.4% (95% CI 33.0% to 42.0%) screened positive for probable CMDs, 9.8% (95% CI 7.5% to 12.7%) reported perceptual symptoms and 11.2% (95% CI 9.0% to 13.8%) reported suicidal ideation. Using UK norms to define normal, borderline and abnormal scores for each of the SDQ domains, a high proportion (15.8%) of Zimbabwean young people had abnormal scores for emotional symptoms and a low proportion had abnormal scores for hyperactivity/inattention scores (2.8%) and prosocial scores (7.1%). We created local cut-offs for the emotional symptoms, hyperactivity/attention and prosocial SDQ domains. The odds of probable CMDs increased with each year of age (OR 1.09, p<0.001) and was higher among those who were out of school and not working compared with those in school or working (adj. OR 1.67 (1.07, 2.62), p=0.04). One in five participants (22.1%) were referred immediately for further clinical assessment but uptake of referral services was low.

CONCLUSIONS: We observed a high prevalence of symptoms of CMDs among general population urban and peri-urban young people especially among those with no employment. There is a need for more accessible and acceptable youth-friendly mental health services.

PMID:36918245 | DOI:10.1136/bmjopen-2022-065276

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