Mental health outcomes, literacy and service provision in low- and middle-income settings: a systematic review of the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Kayonda Hubert Ngamaba, Martin Paul Webber, Cheyann Jade Heap, Jack Liuta, Israël Kenda Makopa, Laddy Sedzo Lombo, Joule Ntwan Madinga, Samuel Ma Miezi Mampunza

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In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the prevalence of mental health issues could be greater than in other low-income and middle-income countries because of major risk factors related to armed conflicts and poverty. Given that mental health is an essential component of health, it is surprising that no systematic evaluation of mental health in the DRC has yet been undertaken.
This study aims to undertake the first systematic review of mental health literacy and service provision in the DRC, to bridge this gap and inform those who need to develop an evidence base. This could support policymakers in tackling the issues related to limited mental health systems and service provision in DRC. Following Cochrane and PRISMA guidelines, a systematic (Web of Science, Medline, Public Health, PsycINFO, and Google Scholar) search was conducted (January 2000 and August 2023). Combinations of key blocks of terms were used in the search such as DRC, war zone, mental health, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression, sexual violence, war trauma, resilience, mental health systems and service provision. We followed additional sources from reference lists of included studies. Screening was completed in two stages: title and abstract search, and full-text screening for relevance and quality. Overall, 50 studies were included in the review; the majority of studies (n = 31) were conducted in the Eastern region of the DRC, a region devastated by war and sexual violence. Different instruments were used to measure participants’ mental health such as the Hopkins Symptoms Checklist (HSCL-25), The Harvard Trauma Questionnaire, Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9); General Anxiety Disorder (GAD-7), and Positive and Negative Symptoms Scale (PANSS). Our study found that wartime sexual violence and extreme poverty are highly traumatic, and cause multiple, long-term mental health difficulties. We found that depression, anxiety, and PTSD were the most common problems in the DRC. Psychosocial interventions such as group therapy, family support, and socio-economic support were effective in reducing anxiety, depression, and PTSD symptoms. This systematic review calls attention to the need to support sexual violence survivors and many other Congolese people affected by traumatic events. This review also highlights the need for validating culturally appropriate measures, and the need for well-designed controlled intervention studies in low-income settings such as the DRC. Better public mental health systems and service provision could help to improve community cohesion, human resilience, and mental wellbeing. There is also an urgent need to address wider social issues such as poverty, stigma, and gender inequality in the DRC.
Original languageEnglish
Article number9
Number of pages16
Journalnpj Mental Health Research
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 6 Mar 2024

Bibliographical note

© The Author(s) 2024


  • mental health, low-income countries, sexual violence survivors, eastern Congo, psychosocial interventions, poor service provision

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