Research Brief: Over one-third of Malawians (Ages 13-24) Report Recent Moderate or Severe Psychological Distress


boy washes his bike in the lake malawi

Physical, sexual, and emotional violence against children often co-occur and can combine to cause poor health ranging from chronic pain and disability to psychological distress and anxiety. This study examined whether exposure to multiple forms of violence among Malawian children and youth was associated with poor mental health. The Malawi Violence Against Children and Young Women Survey (VACS) was conducted among a nationally representative sample of 13-24 year-old males and females in Malawi in 2013.

Key Findings

  • More than one in three Malawians report mild, moderate, or serious psychological distress.
  • Females were more likely to experience sexual violence, whereas males were more likely to experience physical violence.
  • Older youth were less likely to experience violence and more likely to experience psychological distress.
  • Sexual violence and emotional violence experienced in childhood or recently were associated with psychological distress in young adulthood.
  • Youth who experienced multiple types of violence during their lifetime were more likely to experience psychological distress than youth who experienced one type of violence or no violence.

What is added by this report?

This study confirms connections among experiencing violence and mental health problems in a nationally representative sample of youth in Malawi. Comprehensive efforts based on the best-available evidence can prevent violence in the first place and address the needs of victims to mitigate the adverse effects of experiencing violence.


Fan A, Liu J, Kress H, Gupta S, Shawa M, Wadonda-Kabondo N, Mercy JA. Applying Structural Equation Modeling to Measure Violence Exposure and Its Impact on Mental Health: Malawi Violence Against Children and Young Women Survey, 2013. Journal of Interpersonal Violence 2017: 1-19.

Footnote: some variation between prevalence estimates from published papers and country reports may exist. This variation reflects slight differences in the subsamples and variables used in the analyses.

Page last reviewed: November 8, 2018