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There is a need for accurate and efficient assessment tools that cover a range of mental health and psychosocial problems. Existing, lengthy self-report assessments may reduce accuracy due to respondent fatigue. Using data from a sample of adults enrolled in a psychotherapy randomized trial in Thailand and a cross-sectional sample of adolescents in Zambia, we leveraged Item Response Theory (IRT) methods to create brief, psychometrically sound, mental health measures.
We used graded-response models to refine scales by identifying and removing poor performing items that were not well correlated with the underlying trait, and by identifying well-performing items at varying levels of a latent trait to assist in screening or monitoring purposes.
In Thailand, the original 17-item depression scale was shortened to seven items and the 30-item Posttraumatic Stress Scale (PTS) was shortened to 10. In Zambia, the Child Posttraumatic Stress Scale (CPSS) was shortened from 17 items to six. Shortened scales in both settings retained the strength of their psychometric properties. When examining longitudinal intervention effects in Thailand, effect sizes were comparable in magnitude for the shortened and standard versions.
Using Item Response Theory (IRT) we created shortened valid measures that can be used to help guide clinical decisions and function as longitudinal research tools. The results of this analysis demonstrate the reliability and validity of shortened scales in each of the two settings and an approach that can be generalized more broadly to help improve screening, monitoring, and evaluation of mental health and psychosocial programs globally.
Despite increasing evidence for the benefits of psychological treatments (PTs) in low- and middle-income countries, few national health systems have adopted PTs as standard care. We aimed to evaluate the effectiveness of a group interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT-G) intervention, when delivered by lay community health workers (LCHWs) in a low-resource government health system in Uganda. The intended outcome was reduction of depression among caregivers of children with nodding syndrome, a neuropsychiatric condition with high morbidity, mortality and social stigma.
A non-randomized trial design was used. Caregivers in six villages (n = 69) received treatment as usual (TAU), according to government guidelines. Caregivers in seven villages (n = 73) received TAU as well as 12 sessions of IPT-G delivered by LCHWs. Primary outcomes were caregiver and child depression assessed at 1 and 6 months post-intervention.
Caregivers who received IPT-G had a significantly greater reduction in the risk of depression from baseline to 1 month [risk ratio (RR) 0.25, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.10–0.62] and 6 months (RR 0.33, 95% CI 0.11–0.95) post-intervention compared with caregivers who received TAU. Children of caregivers who received IPT-G had significantly greater reduction in depression scores than children of TAU caregivers at 1 month (Cohen's d = 0.57, p = 0.01) and 6 months (Cohen's d = 0.54, p = 0.03). Significant effects were also observed for psychological distress, stigma and social support among caregivers.
IPT-G delivered within a low-resource health system is an effective PT for common mental health problems in caregivers of children with a severe neuropsychiatric condition and has psychological benefits for the children as well. This supports national health policy initiatives to integrate PTs into primary health care services in Uganda.
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