Predictors of mental health resilience in children who have been parentally bereaved by AIDS in urban South Africa.


Children parentally bereaved by AIDS experience high rates of mental health problems. However, there is considerable variability in outcomes, and some show no mental health problems even when followed over time. Primary aims were to identify predictors of resilient adaptation at child, family and community levels within a group of AIDS-orphaned children, and to consider their cumulative influence. A secondary aim was to test whether predictors were of particular influence among children orphaned by AIDS relative to non-orphaned and other-orphaned children. AIDS-orphaned (n = 290), other-orphaned (n = 163) and non-orphaned (n = 202) adolescents living in informal settlements in Cape Town, South Africa were assessed on two occasions 4 years apart (mean age 13.5 years at Time 1, range = 10-19 years). Self-report mental health screens were used to operationalise resilience in AIDS-orphaned children as the absence of clinical-range symptoms of PTSD, anxiety, depression, conduct problems, and suicidality. A quarter of AIDS-orphaned children (24 %) showed no evidence of mental health problems at either wave. Child physical health, better caregiving quality, food security, better peer relationship quality, and lower exposure to community violence, bullying or stigma at baseline predicted sustained resilience. There were cumulative influences across predictors. Associations with mental health showed little variation by child age or gender, or between orphaned and non-orphaned children. Mental health resilience is associated with multiple processes across child, family and community levels of influence. Caution is needed in making causal inferences.