A qualitative study of mental health problems among children living in New Delhi slums

Prerna Martin, Emily E. Haroz, Catherine Irene En-Lin Lee, Paul Bolton, Kiran Martin, Rosemary Meza, Elizabeth McCarthy, Shannon Dorsey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Children living in urban slums in India are exposed to chronic stressors that increase their risk of developing mental disorders, but they remain a neglected group. Effective mental health interventions are needed; however, it is necessary to understand how mental health symptoms and needs are perceived and prioritized locally to tailor interventions for this population. We used an existing rapid ethnographic assessment approach to identify mental health problems from the perspective of children living in Indian slums, including local descriptions, perceived causes, impact, and coping behavior. Local Hindi-speaking interviewers conducted 77 free-list interviews and 33 key informant interviews with children and adults (N = 107) from two slums in New Delhi. Results identified a range of internalizing and externalizing symptoms consistent with depression, anxiety, and conduct problems in children. Findings included both common cross-cultural experiences and symptoms as well as uniquely described symptoms (e.g., “madness or anger,” “pain in the heart and mind”) not typically included on western standardized measures of psychopathology. Mental health problems appeared to be highly interconnected, with experiences such as harassment and fighting often described as both causes and impacts of mental health symptoms in children. Community perspectives indicated that even in the face of several unmet basic needs, mental health problems were important to the community and counseling interventions were likely to be acceptable. We discuss implications for adapting mental health interventions and assessing their effectiveness to reduce the burden of mental illness among children living in urban slums in India.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Journaltranscultural psychiatry
StateAccepted/In press - 2024


  • children
  • global mental health
  • India
  • needs assessment
  • qualitative research
  • urban slums

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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