Mental health problems and their association to violence and maltreatment in a nationally representative sample of Tanzanian secondary school students

  • Mabula NkubaEmail author
  • Katharin Hermenau
  • Katharina Goessmann
  • Tobias Hecker
Original Paper



Little is known about the prevalence of mental health problems among adolescents in Sub-Saharan Africa. Research consistently determined violence and maltreatment to be important risk factors. In this study, we examined the prevalence of mental health problems among adolescents in Tanzania, as well as the association with exposure to violence and maltreatment.


We administered a set of questionnaires (e.g., strength and difficulties questionnaire; conflict tactic scale) to a nationally representative sample of 700 Tanzanian secondary school children (52% girls; age 14.92 years, SD = 1.02) and 333 parents or primary caregivers (53% females; age 43.47 years, SD = 9.02).


41% of the students reported an elevated level of mental health problems (emotional problems 40%, peer problems 63%, conduct problems 45%, hyperactivity 17%) in the past 6 months. Concordantly, 31% of parents reported observing an elevated level of mental health problems in their children (emotional problems 37%, peer problems 54%, conduct problems 35%, hyperactivity 17%). After controlling for other risk factors, we found significant associations between physical violence by parents and adolescent’s mental health problems reported by students (β = 0.15) and their parents (β = 0.33).


Our findings suggest a high prevalence of mental health problems using screening tools among secondary school students in Tanzania as well as an association between physical violence by parents and adolescents’ mental health problems. Our findings emphasize the need to inform the population at large about the potentially adverse consequences associated with violence against children and adolescents.


Mental health Violence Maltreatment Prevalence Tanzania Sub-Saharan Africa 



This research was supported by the Young Scholar Fund of the University of Konstanz and vivo International. We thank all head of schools and the school counselors for their support in this study. We are very grateful to our research team, including: Getrude Mkinga, Andrew Mtitu, Gloria Mushi, Suzan Ngahyoma, Moyo Osiah Mwaihola, Rehema Mdoe, Simeon Mgode, Sophia Backhaus and Katharina Zepf. In a special way, we are grateful to Thomas Elbert for his support and supervision throughout the project.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interests.

Supplementary material

127_2018_1511_MOESM1_ESM.doc (49 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOC 49 KB)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of KonstanzKonstanzGermany
  2. 2.Department of Educational Psychology and Curriculum StudiesDar es Salaam University College of EducationDar es SalaamTanzania
  3. internationalKonstanzGermany
  4. 4.Department of PsychologyBielefeld UniversityBielefeldGermany

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