, Volume 19, Issue 2, pp 208-216,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 18 May 2011

Youth, Sexual Risk-Taking Behavior, and Mental Health: a Study of University Students in Uganda

Abstract

Background

Little focus has been paid to the role of mental health among young people with regard to risky sexual behavior and HIV prevention in sub-Saharan Africa. The aim of this study was to investigate the relationship between poor mental health and risky sexual behavior (HIV/AIDS) among a population of university students in Uganda.

Methods

In 2005, 980 Ugandan university students completed a self-administered questionnaire (response rate 80%) assessing sociodemographic and religious background factors, mental health, alcohol use, and sexual behavior. Mental health was assessed using items from the Hopkins Symptoms Checklist-25 and the Symptom Checklist-90.

Results

High scores on depression and high numbers of sexual partners among both males (odds ratio (OR) 2.0, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.2–3.3) and females (OR 3.3, 95% CI 1.3–8.6) were significantly associated. Elevated anxiety scores among men were associated with high numbers of sexual partners (OR 1.9, 95% CI 1.1–3.3) and inconsistent condom use (OR 1.9, 95% CI 1.1–3.6). Psychoticism was also significantly associated with high numbers of sexual partners among men. The associations remained statistically significant after controlling for sociodemographic factors and level of alcohol consumption.

Conclusion

These findings indicate that previous conclusions on the association between sexual behavior and mental health from high- and middle-income countries also are valid in a low-income setting, such as in Uganda. This knowledge has implications for policy formation and HIV/AIDS preventive strategies. Coordinated youth-friendly mental health and sexual and reproductive health services to meet the needs of young people would be desirable.