The development of a contextually appropriate measure of psychological distress in Sierra Leone

Rebecca Horn (Lead / Corresponding author), Kanykey Jailobaeva, Stella Arakelyan, Alastair Ager

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
13 Downloads (Pure)


Background: Studies of psychological distress in Sierra Leone have typically used measures which were developed for use in other contexts, and which often have not been adapted or validated for use in Sierra Leone. This has resulted in a lack of reliable information about the patterns of psychological distress within the population, which is a barrier to the development of effective and appropriate mental health services. The aim of the study was to develop a locally-appropriate measure of psychological distress for Sierra Leone.

Methods: The new measure consists of two instruments: the Sierra Leone Psychological Distress Scale (SLPDS) and a gendered measure of ability to carry out daily tasks—a Function scale—as an indication of the severity of distress. A three-phase mixed methods exploratory sequential study was conducted. Phase 1 was item generation and testing, leading to the development of a set of potential items for both instruments. Phase 2 was a small pilot study (N = 202) leading to the selection of the final set of items for both measures. Phase 3 was a validation phase where the SLPDS and the Function scale were administered with a larger sample of 904 respondents. Item analysis was used to assess the internal consistency of the scales, and Exploratory Factor Analysis to explore the properties of the SLPDS.

Results: Exploratory factor analysis using the principal axis factoring with an oblique rotation identified a three-factor structure for the 18-item SLPDS. Internal consistency for the SLPDS (Cronbach’s alpha = 0.89) and three subscales was good (Cronbach’s alpha > 0.73). The internal reliability of the male and female versions of the Function scale was also found to be acceptable (Cronbach’s alpha = 0.90 for the female scale and 0.79 for the male scale).

Conclusions: Together the SLPD and Function scales provide a locally-validated tool which will enable government bodies and local and international non-governmental organisations in Sierra Leone to assess mental health and psychosocial needs. This will support both effective service provision and the evaluation of initiatives designed to improve mental health and psychosocial wellbeing.
Original languageEnglish
Article number108
Number of pages13
JournalBMC Psychology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 21 Jul 2021


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