Open Access Research

Psychological distress in Ghana: associations with employment and lost productivity

Maureen E Canavan1*, Heather L Sipsma1, Achyuta Adhvaryu1, Angela Ofori-Atta3, Helen Jack1, Christopher Udry2, Isaac Osei-Akoto4 and Elizabeth H Bradley1

Author Affiliations

1 Yale School of Public Health, New Haven, CT, USA

2 Department of Economics, Yale University, New Haven, CT, USA

3 Department of Psychiatry, University of Ghana, Legon, Ghana

4 Institute of Statistical, Social and Economic Research, University of Ghana, Legon, Ghana

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International Journal of Mental Health Systems 2013, 7:9  doi:10.1186/1752-4458-7-9

Published: 7 March 2013



Mental health disorders account for 13% of the global burden of disease, a burden that low-income countries are generally ill-equipped to handle. Research evaluating the association between mental health and employment in low-income countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, is limited. We address this gap by examining the association between employment and psychological distress.


We analyzed data from the Ghana Socioeconomic Panel Survey using logistic regression (N = 5,391 adults). In multivariable analysis, we estimated the association between employment status and psychological distress, adjusted for covariates. We calculated lost productivity from unemployment and from excess absence from work that respondents reported was because of their feelings of psychological distress.


Approximately 21% of adults surveyed had moderate or severe psychological distress. Increased psychological distress was associated with increased odds of being unemployed. Men and women with moderate versus mild or no psychological distress had more than twice the odds of being unemployed. The association of severe versus mild or no distress with unemployment differed significantly by sex (P-value for interaction 0.004). Among men, the adjusted OR was 12.4 (95% CI: 7.2, 21.3), whereas the association was much smaller for women (adjusted OR = 3.8, 95% CI: 2.5, 6.0). Extrapolating these figures to the country, the lost productivity associated with moderate or severe distress translates to approximately 7% of the gross domestic product of Ghana.


Psychological distress is strongly associated with unemployment in Ghana. The findings underscore the importance of addressing mental health issues, particularly in low-income countries.

Employment; Mental health; Low-income countries