Intersections between polyvictimisation and mental health among adolescents in five urban disadvantaged settings: the role of gender

Mphatso Kamndaya, Pedro T. Pisa, Matthew F. Chersich, Michele R. Decker, Adesola Olumide, Rajib Acharya, Yan Cheng, Heena Brahmbhatt and Sinead Delany-Moretlwe BMC Public Health, 2017; Intersections between polyvictimisation and mental health among adolescents in five urban disadvantaged settings

Polyvictimisation (PV) – exposure to violence across multiple contexts – causes considerable morbidity and mortality among adolescents. Despite high levels of violence in urban disadvantaged settings, gender differences in associations between PV and mental health have not been well established.

This paper presents data from a survey with 2393 adolescents aged 15-19 years from urban disadvantaged settings in Baltimore (USA), Delhi (India), Ibadan (Nigeria), Johannesburg (South Africa) and Shanghai (China). PV was defined as exposure to two or more types of violence in the past 12 months with family, peers, in the community, or from intimate partners and non-partner sexual violence. 

The findings demonstrate that PV is:

  • common among both sexes in urban disadvantaged settings across the world.
  • associated with poor mental health outcomes in girls.
  • associated with poor health status in both girls and boys.

Prevention interventions are failing to address violence exposure across multiple contexts, but especially within community settings and in Johannesburg. Interventions are needed to identify adolescents exposed to PV and link them to care, with services targeting a range of mental health conditions among girls and perhaps focusing on depression among boys.

High levels of PV indicate that current preventive efforts are poorly, if at all, effective, and the effects of this are magnified by the absence of treatment for the mental health consequences thereof.

This paper is part of the BMC Public Health supplement Urban Health at the Edge: A Series on Reproductive Health and HIV in Inner-City Johannesburg. Read the introduction and find links to other STRIVE papers in the series here.

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