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01.12.2014 | Research | Ausgabe 1/2014 Open Access

International Journal of Mental Health Systems 1/2014

Rates and predictors of mental stress in Rwanda: investigating the impact of gender, persecution, readiness to reconcile and religiosity via a structural equation model

International Journal of Mental Health Systems > Ausgabe 1/2014
Lale Heim, Susanne Schaal
Wichtige Hinweise

Electronic supplementary material

The online version of this article (doi:10.​1186/​1752-4458-8-37) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.

Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Authors’ contributions

LH conceived of the study, conducted its design and the coordination of the study, performed the statistical analyses and drafted the manuscript. SS conceived of the study, conducted the design and the coordination of the study and contributed to the interpretation of findings and writing of the paper. Both authors read and approved the final version.



As a consequence of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, prevalences of mental disorders are elevated in Rwanda. More knowledge about determinants of mental stress can help to improve mental health services and treatment in the east-central African country. The present study aimed to investigate actual rates of mental stress (posttraumatic stress disorder, syndromal depression and syndromal anxiety) in Rwanda and to examine if gender, persecution during the genocide, readiness to reconcile as well as importance given to religiosity and quality of religiosity are predictors of mental stress.


The study comprised a community sample of N = 200 Rwandans from Rwanda’s capital Kigali, who experienced the Rwandan genocide. By conducting structured interviews, ten local Master level psychologists examined types of potentially lifetime traumatic events, symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression and anxiety, readiness to reconcile and religiosity. Applying non-recursive structural equation modeling (SEM), the associations between gender, persecution, readiness to reconcile, religiosity and mental stress were investigated.


Respondents had experienced an average number of 11.38 types of potentially lifetime traumatic events. Of the total sample, 11% met diagnostic criteria for PTSD, 19% presented with syndromal depression and 23% with syndromal anxiety. Female sex, persecution and readiness to reconcile were significant predictors of mental stress. Twofold association was found between centrality of religion (which captures the importance given to religiosity) and mental stress, showing, that higher mental stress provokes a higher centrality and that higher centrality reduces mental stress. The variables positive and negative religious functioning (which determine the quality of religiosity) respectively had an indirect negative and positive effect on mental stress.


Study results provide evidence that rates of mental stress are still elevated in Rwanda and that female sex, persecution, readiness to reconcile, centrality and religious functioning are predictors of mental stress. Seventeen years after the genocide, there remains a large gap between the need for and provision of mental health services in Rwanda. Results underline the importance of improving the respective infrastructure, with a focus on the requirements of women and persons, who were persecuted during the genocide. They further highlight that the consideration of readiness to reconcile, centrality and religious functioning in therapeutic interventions can aid mental health in Rwanda.
Authors’ original file for figure 1
Authors’ original file for figure 2
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