Mental health of carers of children affected by HIV attending community-based programmes in South Africa and Malawi
There is strong evidence that both adults and children infected with and affected by HIV have high levels of mental health burden. Yet there have been few studies investigating carer mental health outcomes in the context of HIV in Malawi and South Africa. The objective of this study was to assess the mental health of carers of children affected by HIV as a part of the Child Community Care study, which aims to generate evidence on the effectiveness of community-based organisation (CBO) services to improve child outcomes. In a cross-sectional study, we interviewed 952 carers of children (aged 4–13 years) attending 28 randomly selected CBOs funded by 11 major donors in South Africa and Malawi. Psychological morbidity was measured using the Shona Symptom Questionnaire and suicidal ideation was measured using an item from the Patient Health Questionnaire. Carers were asked about care-seeking for emotional problems. Overall, 28% of carers scored above the clinical cut-off for current psychological morbidity and 12.2% reported suicidal ideation. We used logistic regression models to test factors associated with poor outcomes. Household unemployment, living with a sick family member and perceived lack of support from the community were associated with both psychological morbidity and suicidal ideation in carers. Reported child food insecurity was also associated with psychological morbidity. In addition, carers living in South Africa were more likely to present with psychological morbidity and suicidal ideation than carers in Malawi. Rates of help-seeking for mental health problems were low. Carers of children affected by HIV are at risk for mental health problems as a result of HIV, socio-economic, care-giving and community factors. We call for increased recognition of the potential role of CBOs in providing mental health care and support for families as a means to improve equity in mental health care. Specifically, we highlight the need for increased training and supervision of staff at CBOs for children affected by HIV, and the inclusion of CBOs in broader efforts to improve population mental health outcomes.