Background: Population level data on mental health from Africa are limited, but available data indicate mental problems to represent a substantial public health problem. The negative impact of HIV on mental health suggests that this could particularly be the case in high prevalence populations. We examined the prevalence of mental distress, distribution patterns and the ways HIV might influence mental health among men and women in a general population.
Methods: The relationship between HIV infection and mental distress was explored using a sample of 4466 participants in a population-based HIV survey conducted in selected rural and urban communities in Zambia in 2003. The Self-reporting questionnaire-10 (SRQ-10) was used to assess global mental distress. Weights were assigned to the SRQ-10 responses based on DSM IV criteria for depression and a cut off point set at 7/20 for probable cases of mental distress. A structural equation modeling (SEM) was established to assess the structural relationship between HIV infection and mental distress in the model, with maximum likelihood ratio as the method of estimation.
Results: The HIV prevalence was 13.6% vs. 18% in the rural and urban populations, respectively. The prevalence of mental distress was substantially higher among women than men and among groups with low educational attainment vs. high. The results of the SEM showed a close fit with the data. The final model revealed that self-rated health and self perceived HIV risk and worry of being HIV infected were important mediators between underlying factors, HIV infection and mental distress. The effect of HIV infection on mental distress was both direct and indirect, but was particularly strong through the indirect effects of health ratings and self perceived risk and worry of HIV infection.
Conclusion: These findings suggest a strong effect of HIV infection on mental distress. In this population where few knew their HIV status, this effect was mediated through self-perceptions of health status, found to capture changes in health perceptions related to HIV, and self-perceived risk and worry of actually being HIV infected.