Child mental health problems in Arab children: application of the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire

Author(s): Thabet AA, Stretch D, Vostanis P


Aim: This study aimed at establishing the mental health profile among 322 Arab children living in the Gaza strip.

Method: Children were selected in four age bands, i.e. 3,6,11 and 16 years of age. The relevant forms of the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) was completed by parents, teachers and 16-year-olds.

Results: Factor analyses of the parent-related questionnaires identified similar general factors as in the UK-based studies of validating the SDQ. Certain items did not load as highly on the general factors, i.e. distractability, feeling scared, feeling unhappy, stealing, and being picked or bullied. Emotional problems items were rated differently in the pre-school group (aches, nervousness-clinging, worries) than in previous studies. Using previous optimal cut-off scores, parent SDQs revealed higher rates of children with emotional and conduct problems falling above the 90th centile established in the UK sample, but lower rates according to self-report SDQs by 16-year-olds.

Conclusions: Western categories of mental health problems did not clearly emerge from the factor analysis. The main difference from western epidemiological studies appeared to operate in parents' perceptions of emotional problems in pre school children. The SDQ is very promising as a screening measure or rating scale in different cultural populations. However, future research should identify and establish indigenously meaningful constructs within this population and culture, and subsequently revise measures of child mental health problems.

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