Impacts of cash transfer and “cash plus” programs on self- perceived stress in Africa: Evidence from Ghana, Malawi, and Tanzania

Poverty and poor mental health are closely linked. Cash transfers have significantly expanded globally. Given their objectives around poverty reduction and improving food security, a major chronic stressor in Africa, cash transfers may affect mental health outcomes. We examine impacts of three large-scale government cash transfer or cash plus programs in Ghana, Malawi, and Tanzania on self-perceived stress using an innovative, newly adapted measure for rural African settings. Linear regression models were used to estimate treatment impacts. We find that cash transfers reduced self-perceived stress in Malawi, but programs in Ghana and Tanzania had no impacts on self-perceived stress. These mixed findings, combined with recent reviews on cash transfers and mental health, suggest that cash transfers may play a role in improving mental health. However, cash alone may not be sufficient to overcome many challenges related to poverty, and complementary programming may also be needed to improve mental health.