‘I wish I could have a life like others’: mental health challenges for young people living with HIV in Tanzania

A qualitative exploration of the mental health and psychosocial contexts of HIV-positive adolescents in Tanzania.

Ramaiya MK, Sullivan KA, K OD, Cunningham CK, Shayo AM, Mmbaga BT, Dow DE. PLoS One. 2016 Nov 16;11(11):e0165936. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0165936. eCollection 2016.

Although 85% of HIV-positive adolescents reside in sub-Saharan Africa, little is known about the psychosocial and mental health factors affecting their daily well-being. Identifying these contextual variables is key to development of culturally appropriate and effective interventions for this understudied and high-risk population. The purpose of this study was to identify salient psychosocial and mental health challenges confronted by HIV-positive youth in a resource-poor Tanzanian setting. A total of 24 qualitative interviews were conducted with a convenience sample of adolescents aged 12-24 receiving outpatient HIV care at a medical center in Moshi, Tanzania. All interviews were audio-recorded, transcribed, and coded using thematic analysis. Psychosocial challenges identified included loss of one or more parents, chronic domestic abuse, financial stressors restricting access to medical care and education, and high levels of internalized and community stigma among peers and other social contacts. Over half of youth (56%) reported difficulties coming to terms with their HIV diagnosis and espoused related feelings of self-blame. These findings highlight the urgent need to develop culturally proficient programs aimed at helping adolescents cope with these manifold challenges. Results from this study guided the development of Sauti ya Vijana (The Voice of Youth), a 10-session group mental health intervention designed to address the psychosocial and mental health needs of HIV-positive Tanzanian youth.

Abstract  Full-text [free] access 

Editor’s notes: This article presents the findings of a mixed-methods study with young people living with HIV and accessing care in Moshi, Tanzania. The study was conducted as part of a larger study assessing mental health needs in this population. The article reports on themes from individual qualitative interviews with 24 young people (aged 13-23) who had mental health difficulties that were previously assessed with the scales used in the larger project. Young people reported a wide range of psychosocial issues leading to ongoing mental health challenges.  These were challenges for which they had received little or no psychological support. Issues included internalized, feared and experienced HIV stigma, loss and bereavement from being orphaned.  Additional challenges were stress from poverty and insecurity in the household, isolation and difficulties with disclosure of their HIV status, and direct and vicarious experiences of violence and abuse. Young people also discussed finding strength in spirituality, friendships and especially peer-support from other young people living with HIV. Findings from the overall study are being used to inform the development of a mental health activity model that, if effective, could be scaled up in other low-income settings. 

United Republic of Tanzania
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