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Association between violence and mental distress, self-harm and suicidal ideation and attempts among young people in Malawi


Background Mental health problems ranging from depression to more severe acts such as self-harm or suicidal behaviours are a serious problem among adolescents and young adults. Exposure to violence during the life of young people can increase mental health issues for youth. This study examines the relationship between exposure to violence and mental health issues among youth using a nationally representative study in Malawi.

Methods We analysed data from the nationally representative Violence Against Children Survey from Malawi (2013) to quantify the association between exposures to violence (physical, sexual and emotional) and their relationship with mental distress, self-harm behaviours and suicidal ideation and attempts among youth aged 13–24 years. We evaluated the association of exposures to violence against children with reported mental health conditions among women and men. We used ordinal logistic regression models with appropriate survey weights to assess exposures to violence and the three outcomes of interest.

Results Children and youth aged 13–24 years exposed to violence in childhood reported higher levels of adverse mental health effects, including mental distress, self-harm behaviours and suicidal ideation and attempts. The odds of reporting these outcomes increased as the number of violence types increased.

Conclusions Understanding the risks based on different combinations of exposures to violence in Malawi can help identify populations at higher risk and optimise violence prevention strategies.

  • Child abuse
  • Suicide/Self?Harm
  • Surveys

Data availability statement

Data are available upon reasonable request. Violence Against Children Survey data are owned by the Government of Malawi and made available by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention through a Data Use Agreement or directly from the Ministry of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare of the Republic of Malawi. Request for public use data sets are available through the Together for Girls website at:

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