Youth mental health has emerged as a pressing global issue. However, to advance research gaps in low-income settings, we need valid measures of common mental health disorders. Using primary data collected in five countries (Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe), this study aims to assess the psychometric properties of the commonly used 10-item Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression (CES-D 10) scale among poor, disadvantaged youth populations in sub-Saharan African (SSA).
Youth samples from each country (sample sizes ranging from 651 to 2098) come from large household surveys with youth modules, collected for impact evaluations of cash transfer programs targeted to poor families. For each sample, we assessed internal consistency (alpha), conducted factor analysis, and then examined construct validity and measurement invariance. We performed both exploratory (EFA) and confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) to examine and confirm the structure of the CES-D 10 for each country and then used multigroup CFA to assess measurement invariance across gender and age. Multivariate analyses were conducted to assess construct validity via test of the relationship between CES-D 10 and background characteristics.
Results show the CES-D 10 had strong psychometric properties and was a reliable measure of depressive symptoms among disadvantaged youth in SSA. Across countries, there was high internal consistency (Cronbach alphas = 0.70–0.76) and the traditional two-factor solution showed good model fit. Full measurement invariance of the CES-D 10 was supported across gender. Consistent with previous literature on risk factors for depressive symptoms, the CES-D 10 was associated with increasing age, and female gender and being out of school in some locations.
Results from this study support broad use of the CES-D 10 among poor youth populations in SSA. Between one-third and two-thirds of our samples demonstrated depressive symptoms as classified by recommended cut-offs for the CES-D 10, indicating a high burden of mental illness in disadvantaged youth populations. This tool can be used in future efforts to study prevalence and dynamics of depressive symptoms in this population, as well as effectiveness of policies and interventions to improve the mental health of youth in SSA.