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Sierra Leone Psychological Distress Scale

What is the Sierra Leone Psychological Distress Scale (SLPDS)?

The SLPDS is a measure of psychological distress which has been designed specifically for the Sierra Leone context. This means that it includes signs of distress which are common amongst adults in Sierra Leone, and it uses words which are easily understood. It is available in both Krio and English.

The SLPDS consists of two parts:

Part 1 is an 18-item scale designed to measure psychological distress. It consists of three subscales, which relate to high emotional arousal (fear, anxiety, anger etc.), passive signs of distress (specifically hopelessness and feelings of worthlessness and withdrawal) and physical and behavioural issues (including sleep, appetite and engaging with other people).

Part 2 is a 9-item measure of ability to carry out daily tasks as an indication of the severity of distress. There are two versions of this – one for men and one for women.

The SLPDS is not intended as an individual screening tool, but as a measure which can be used at community-level to assess mental health and psychosocial needs.

Why was it developed?

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.

How was it developed?

The measure is based on research conducted to understand how psychological distress is expressed by adult men and women in Sierra Leone. This involved interviews with community members in five districts of the country, and interviews with community leaders and other key informants in four districts.

A draft measure was developed based on the signs of distress identified through this process. These initial questions were tested, reviewed, revised and tested again with community members in different parts of the country.

Finally, the revised version of the SLPDS was used to collect information from a sample of 904 men and women in five districts. Statistical analysis was conducted to assess the reliability and validity of the measure. Some further revisions were made at this stage before the SLPDS was finalised.

What can it be used for?

The SLPDS is designed to be used at community or group level, rather than to assess individual wellbeing. It can be used to:

  • Assess the nature of psychological distress within a community or group, to support the planning of services or projects which will meet their needs.
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of an initiative designed to strengthen psychosocial wellbeing and/ or reduce distress.
  • What can it not be used for?

    The SLPDS is not a clinical screening tool. It cannot be used to:

  • Diagnose mental health disorders
  • Screen individuals for mental health problems
  • It was developed and tested for use with adult populations (age 18 and over). It has not yet been tested with adolescents and children, so we do not know how appropriate it is for these groups.

    Who can use it?

    The SLPDS can be used by individuals and groups who want to better understand the psychosocial wellbeing of the communities they work with. This can include community groups, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), government bodies and others.

    No background in mental health or psychosocial support is needed to use the SLPDS.

    It can be used by those involved in planning, implementing and evaluating programmes, and by those conducting research.

    Where can I find out more about the SLPDS?

    You can read about the development of the SLPDS and its psychometric properties here:

    Horn, R., Jailobaeva, K., Arakelyan, S. & Ager, A. (2021). The development of a contextually appropriate measure of psychological distress in Sierra Leone. BMC Psychology, 9, 108.

    If you would like to contact someone for more information about how to use the SLPD, please complete this contact form and we will get back to you.