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Hard Times and Common Mental Health Disorders in Developing Countries: Insights from Urban Ghana


Over the past century, the world has rapidly become urbanized, meaning more people now live in urban areas and cities than in rural areas. The mass movement of the rural poor to urban centers and cities has also changed the dynamics of poverty. Scarce employment opportunities, lack of assets, and sudden changes in economic conditions have been proposed as increasing the stress level for most urban residents, especially the poorer ones. Using a face-to-face household survey that included a six-item non-specific psychometric instrument, the data revealed how psychological distress may be patterned by socioeconomic status among urban residents in Ghana during difficult times characterized by food and fuel price hikes. The data collected in interviews of 1,158 adults (49% males and 51% females) who were 18 years and above were analyzed using multinomial logit regressions. The results confirmed previous findings and showed negative links between socioeconomic status, adverse life events, and psychological distress. Specifically, low income, low level of education, large household size, undesirable life events and being employed in agriculture was found to be associated with psychological disorders. The outcomes of this research project are consistent with previous findings—that people in lower socioeconomic strata and those who have suffered adverse events are more likely to suffer psychological distress. The implications of these results for behavioral health are discussed.

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The author wants to thank three anonymous referees whose comments substantially improved the manuscript. The Faculty of Business and Law at the University of Newcastle Australia provided financial support for this research project. The Institute of Statistical, Social, and Economic Research (ISSER) at the University of Ghana hosted the author in 2010 when the data for this research project was collected. The author would also like to thank all research participants who gave their time during the interviews and all seminar participants at the Newcastle Business School for their feedback.

Conflict of interest

The author declares no conflict interest.

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Correspondence to Janet Dzator BSc MPhil PhD.

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Dzator, J. Hard Times and Common Mental Health Disorders in Developing Countries: Insights from Urban Ghana. J Behav Health Serv Res 40, 71–87 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11414-012-9305-z

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  • Mental Health
  • Psychological Distress
  • Gross Domestic Product
  • Urban Resident
  • Global Financial Crisis