Research has demonstrated the importance of understanding risk factors for mental health and wellbeing. Less research has focused on protective factors that protect mental health and promote wellbeing in diverse contexts. Estimating structural paths from risk protective factors to psychopathology and wellbeing can inform prioritization of targeted investment in adolescent health programs that seek to modify factors that are most closely associated with mental wellbeing.
The purpose of this study was to examine risk factors (e.g. emotional neglect, emotional abuse, physical neglect, stigma) and protective factors (e.g. community relationships, self-esteem, and autonomy) among adolescent orphans, protective associations with depression, anxiety and externalizing behaviors and promotive associations with hope, happiness, and health.
The analytic sample was collected between January and March of 2019 and included 350 adolescent orphans ages 10-15 from three districts in Tanzania. Participants completed survey interviews, 75-90 min in length, that measured risk and protective factors, psychological symptoms, and mental wellbeing measures.
Results of the fitted structural equation model indicated that structural paths from protective factors to psychopathology (β
= -0.53, p
= 0.015) and mental wellbeing (β
= 0.72, p
= 0.014) outcomes were significant. Structural paths from risk factors to psychopathology (β
= -0.34, p
= 0.108) and mental wellbeing (β
= -0.24, p
= 0.405) were not significant.
In a sample of vulnerable youth, protective factors (e.g. community relationships, self-esteem, and autonomy) were significantly associated with reduced depression, anxiety and externalizing behaviors and increased hope, happiness, and health in a structural equation model that included risk factors (emotional neglect, emotional abuse, physical neglect). Results suggest that strong community relationships, self-esteem and autonomy may be important modifiable factors to target in intervention programs aimed at supporting adolescent mental wellbeing.