An Exploratory Study Assessing Psychological Distress of Indigents in Burkina Faso: A Step Forward in Understanding Mental Health Needs in West Africa.

Pigeon-Gagné, É.; Hassan, G.; Yaogo, M.; Ridde, V. (2016)

International Journal of Equity in health

16 | 143

Poverty is known as an important determinant of health, but empirical data are still missing on the relationships between poverty, other adverse living conditions, and psychological distress, particularly in low-income countries.

This study aimed to assess mental health needs and psychological distress among the poorest in rural settings in Burkina Faso where food security and access to water, electricity, schooling, and healthcare are limited.

We randomly selected 2000 individuals previously identified as indigents by a community-targeting process. Interviewers visited participants (n = 1652) in their homes and completed a questionnaire on mental health variables that included presence and intensity of anxious, depressive, psychotic, and aggressive symptoms, as well as level of psychological distress. Descriptive statistics, Spearman correlations, and logistic regressions were performed.

In all, 40.2% of the sample reported 10 or more anxious/depressive symptoms in the past 30 days, and 25.5% reported having experienced at least one psychotic symptom over their lifetime, 65.6% of whom had had those symptoms for many years. The number of anxious and depressive symptoms was significantly associated with the level of psychological distress (r = 0.423, p < .001). Predictors of distress level included: poor health condition (F(1) = 23.743, p <. 001), being a woman (F(1) = 43.926, p < .001), not having any income (F(1) = 16.185, p < .001), having begged for food in the past 30 days (F(1) = 12.387, p < .001), being illiterate, and being older (F(1) = 21.487, p < .001). Approximately one third of respondents reporting anxious/depressive or psychotic symptoms (28.2 and 30.0%, respectively) had not talked about their symptoms to anyone in their social network.

These results suggest alarmingly high levels of psychological distress and reported symptoms among the poorest in rural settings in Burkina Faso, which can be explained by their difficult living conditions. However, these results must be interpreted from a transcultural perspective to avoid decontextualized misinterpretations. Ethnographic works are needed to document the larger context within which these distress results can be analyzed.