Background Mental health disorders present significant health challenges in populations in sub Saharan Africa especially in deprived urban poor contexts. Some studies have suggested that in collectivistic societies such as most African societies people can draw on social capital to attenuate the effect of community stressors on their mental health. Global studies suggest the effect of social capital on mental disorders such as psychological distress is mixed, and emerging studies on the psychosocial characteristics of collectivistic societies suggest that mistrust and suspicion sometimes deprive people of the benefit of social capital. In this study, we argue that trust which is often measured as a component of social capital has a more direct effect on reducing community stressors in such deprived communities. Methods Data from the Urban Health and Poverty Survey (EDULINK Wave III) survey were used. The survey was conducted in 2013 in three urban poor communities in Accra: Agbogbloshie, James Town and Ussher Town. Psychological distress was measured with a symptomatic wellbeing scale. Participants' perceptions of their neighbours' willingness to trust, protect and assist others was used to measure community sense of trust. Participants' willingness to ask for and receive help from neighbours was used to measure personal sense of trust. Demographic factors were controlled for. The data were analyzed using descriptive and multivariate regressions. Results The mean level of psychological distress among the residents was 25.5 (SD 5.5). Personal sense of trust was 8.2 (SD 2.0), and that of community sense of trust was 7.5 (SD 2.8). While community level trust was not significant, personal sense of trust significantly reduced psychological distress (B = -.2016728, t = -2.59, p < 0.010). The other factors associated with psychological distress in this model were perceived economic standing, education and locality of residence. Conclusion This study presents evidence that more trusting individuals are significantly less likely to be psychologically distressed within deprived urban communities in Accra. Positive intra and inter individual level variables such as personal level trust and perceived relative economic standing significantly attenuated the effect of psychological distress in communities with high level neighbourhood disorder in Accra.
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